Report (1st Day)
Clause 1: Permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “are” insert “recognised as”
My Lords, we had quite a good discussion about this in Committee. This amendment, together with Amendments 4 and 5 in my name, is centred on the question of the extent to which we wish to maintain the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament and the extent to which we wish to litter our legislation with declaratory statements that have no meaning whatever in order to make political capital on the part of the Government or someone else.
Regarding the Statement delivered a few moments ago, at first I thought that my noble friend had misread it when he referred to “Scotland’s two Governments”. Scotland has a United Kingdom Government and a devolved Scottish Government, but this use of language, which is designed to appease the separatists, is now being included in our legislation. Amendment 1 would simply put back into the Bill the original drafting that the Government presented to the House of Commons. The wording proposed in my amendment was perfectly satisfactory to the Government because it reflected the Government’s position, but the wording was changed to meet an amendment put forward by, I think, the Scottish nationalists.
There is a great irony here. My amendment is about the authority and nature of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. I—perhaps rather naively—thought that the Scottish nationalists were in favour of breaking up those arrangements, and I did not really understand why a Conservative and unionist Government would wish to help them in that process. At present, line 9 on page 1 of the Bill reads:
“The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements”.
My amendment would simply put back the words “recognised as” so that the Bill read, “The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are recognised as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements”. If the words “recognised as” are included, that implies that there is another body that recognises that—that body being the United Kingdom Parliament. However, the statement currently in the Bill as amended by the nationalists in the other place flies in the face of our constitutional tradition that no Parliament can bind its successors. It also flies in the face of the Government’s own rule that legislation should not be used for declaratory purposes.
We had indeed a very long debate about this in Committee, but I have looked in vain for any amendments from the Government to address any of the arguments that were put forward. The Constitution Committee produced a very serious report. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, spoke at great length. There were a number of contributions, but all of them have been ignored. They have all been ignored because the Government’s mantra is, “We have to implement what the Smith commission report indicated and there can be no departure from it”. But, of course, this clause is a departure from the commission’s proposals.
My Amendment 4 provides that, on page 1, line 17, we should leave out “Scotland” and insert “the United Kingdom”. As currently drafted, the Bill provides:
“In view of that commitment it is declared that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are not to be abolished except on the basis of a decision of the people of Scotland voting in a referendum”.
My amendment would make it a decision of the people of the United Kingdom voting in a referendum, because we are still a United Kingdom and, indeed, the Scottish people have only very recently voted overwhelmingly to achieve that.
I thought that my noble friend would accept my amendment in Committee—I realised that he would have to go away and think about it—but perhaps he will now accept my Amendment 5, which provides:
“Nothing in this section alters the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament”.
What has become of us that a Conservative and unionist Government are making declaratory legislation on the face of a Bill but are not prepared to accept as an amendment the words:
“Nothing in this section alters the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament”?
No doubt there will be an opportunity for us to discuss the fiscal framework when we get the fiscal framework, but, looking at the Statement that has been made, where we have given the Scottish Parliament a veto on the terms by which it is financed—we have given that away—I have to say to my noble friend that we appear to be engaged in a long-term process of appeasement which undermines the authority of the United Kingdom Parliament. These amendments are an attempt, in at least a declaratory form, to set the record straight. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am as disappointed as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that some of the points that were raised—indeed, all the points that were raised—in Committee on Clause 1 have met with no response from the Government by way of amendment. My amendment in this group is Amendment 2, which is directed to the wording of the new Section 63A(3). I am repeating points that I made in Committee which were designed to achieve greater clarity. In some respects, the need for greater clarity is revealed by the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has tabled and, indeed, by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, just a moment ago.
There were two particular points in new subsection (3) to which I drew attention last time and to which I draw attention yet again. The first is the phrase,
“a decision of the people of Scotland”.
The first question is: what kind of decision? What majority, if any? Is it to be by simple majority or something else? Merely to use the phrase “a decision” does not tell us what the mechanism is to be to record that decision in a way that would have effect. The second is the phrase, “the people of Scotland”. Is the referendum to be confined to people who are in Scotland, or are any people who can claim they are of Scotland to be allowed to participate in the referendum?
My amendment seeks to clarify those matters by saying that the,
“referendum has been held in Scotland”;
and, secondly, that the decision is to be that of,
“a majority of those voting”—
in other words, a simple majority only.
Unless those points are tidied up and greater clarity is achieved, the uncertainty which I suggested lurked within the current wording of the subsection will remain. I hope very much that the Minister will feel able to reflect yet again on the need for clarity. It is a feature in various parts of the Bill that a great deal of clarity has been achieved. It is disappointing that, in the constitutional part of the Bill—Part 1, which has very great significance—the clarity which is present in other parts of the Bill is not being achieved. It is for that reason that I have come back yet again on Report with the points that I made earlier, in the hope that they will still receive attention.
My Lords, Amendment 3 is in my name. I moved a similar amendment in Committee and expressed the hope, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, that there would be some response from the Government. I do not think any one of us is suggesting that our individual solutions are perfect, but clarity is certainly needed. We need to reflect, particularly this afternoon, having heard a Statement, to which we will doubtless return on Monday, that is fraught with danger for the future of the United Kingdom. It is tremendously important in that context that the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament should be specifically acknowledged in one way or another.
Where I differ from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is that I do not want the ultimate decision to be made in a referendum, if it comes—I hope it will not, but it might—to the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament was the creation of the United Kingdom Parliament. If it is to be abolished at any time—I reiterate my hope and belief that it will not be—it is crucial that the final word should be with the United Kingdom Parliament.
It may well be that part of such a process would be a referendum. I do not particularly like referenda, but they are now part of our constitutional system and, like them or not, we all have to accept that. But I believe fundamentally in parliamentary democracy. Therefore, it is crucial that the ultimate decision should be made in Parliament and should be made in the elected House. Of course your Lordships’ House should have a constructive part to play. Of course it should scrutinise any legislation that is placed before Parliament. But ultimately, this should be the decision of the elected House.
I am conscious that small majorities can sometimes provoke great wrath and dissension, so I have made a suggestion in my amendment and it is here for noble Lords to see. There would have to be,
“a two-thirds majority in a vote of the House of Commons in which 75 per cent of the members elected by Scottish constituencies voted for abolition”.
I do not put that before noble Lords as the ultimate panacea, but something along those lines would go a long way to reassure those of us who are concerned for the long-term future of the United Kingdom. I am sure that everyone in your Lordships’ House at least shares that concern. I made similar points in Committee and expressed the hope that the Minister would reflect and that we would see the results of his reflection when we came to Report, but there is no sign of that. It is a great pity, because if we truly believe in the United Kingdom, it follows, as night follows day, that we believe in the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament. There has to be something in this Bill, either along the lines of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth or of mine, as well as taking up some of the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. It is just not good enough to leave the Bill as it is.
In all that has been going on over the past few months, there is an element of the paying of Danegeld. Those who pay Danegeld rarely get value for money, and I think we should bear that carefully in mind.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 2, with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It seeks to amend the clause without affecting subsections (1) and (2). I have also tabled Amendment 6, which goes further and replaces the existing clause with a new clause. This seeks to address concerns raised not only by me but by other noble Lords in Committee.
The justification for Clause 1, reiterated by my noble and learned friend Lord Keen in Committee, as we have heard again this afternoon, is that it delivers on the terms of the Smith commission report. That, I submit, is not a solid defence for two reasons. First, I suggest that it is ultra vires. It falls outside the terms of reference of the commission and does not devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament. Is my noble and learned friend arguing that the Government’s commitment to implement the commission recommendations encompassed whatever it recommended, regardless of the commission’s terms of reference? If we are to proceed with this clause, we have to do so on the basis of the Minister conceding that the Government, in making such a commitment, were acting irresponsibly.
Secondly, the recommendation does not lend itself to a legislative proposition and therefore should not find embodiment in a Bill. There are other ways to achieve it. As I have emphasised, the Cabinet Office Guide to Making Legislation states that Bills should contain only legislative propositions. Subsection (1), as the Minister has conceded, is a political statement. In respect of the guidance, he argued in Committee that one could have exceptions to such generalities. He offered an example that could be described as germane to the issue, but it is more than 300 years old and thus predates Cabinet Office guidance.
The defence that the Government are following precisely the Smith commission recommendations is undermined by subsection (3), which qualifies subsection (1)—the Minister conceded in Committee that it injects an element of conditionality—and is the product of the Government’s own thinking on the matter. The Minister thinks that subsection (3) reinforces rather than undermines the commitment in subsection (1), but the key point is that the Government are prepared to depart from the precise recommendations of the Smith commission.
The clause is inherently problematic. There are two fundamental problems, one raised by several noble Lords in Committee and the other touched on, especially by my noble friend Lord Lothian. The clause states that the Scottish Parliament is permanent and will not be abolished unless there is a referendum in Scotland. In so doing, as was made clear in Committee, it raises questions about sovereignty. Does the clause provide an element of entrenchment? If not, and the Minister emphasised in Committee that,
“this Parliament is sovereign, and it cannot disclaim that sovereignty”,—[Official Report, 8/12/15; col. 1470.]
what is the point of the exercise? In effect, my noble and learned friend was saying that it is a political statement and the provision can be changed by Parliament. In other words, permanence cannot be guaranteed. If that is the case, the clause offers a misleading statement. If it is not the case, it undermines or calls into question the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. That point was made strongly in Committee by my noble friends Lord Lothian and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
The other core problem was embodied in the comments of my noble friend Lord Lothian when he said that,
“the legislation would set a whole lot of other constitutional hares running”.—[Official Report, 8/12/15; col. 1452.]
What are the implications for other legislative or quasi-legislative bodies established by statute? If not declared to be permanent, what is their status? Are they to be deemed any less permanent than the Scottish Parliament? My noble and learned friend did not address this in Committee. We cannot view the clause in isolation.
If we are to proceed with this clause, as the Government appear determined to do, we should at least seek to render it less problematic than it is with the present wording. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made the point that the word “permanent” was, as he put it, perhaps not very cleverly chosen. There may be a way to soften it to render it compatible with well-understood constitutional principles.
The way to achieve this was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. I took his suggestion in framing my proposed new clause. Section 1(1) of the Scotland Act 1998 established the Scottish Parliament and Section 44 established the Scottish Executive. My amendment would provide that those provisions shall not be repealed without a referendum of electors in Scotland, with the electorate being the same as that provided in the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Act 1997. Given that there was a referendum in 1998 on establishing the Scottish Parliament, this would provide that another referendum would be necessary before it is abolished.
The advantage of the proposed new clause is that it avoids the constitutional problems generated by the existing clause. It embodies no political statement but is confined to a provision of law—this does change the law—and is based on the continued existence and permanence of the Scottish Parliament. I made the point before that no one doubts that the Scottish Parliament is permanent. I noticed when my noble friend Lord Dunlop repeated the Statement that his words at the Dispatch Box were to the effect that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament will be put beyond doubt. I noted that in the copy of the Statement from the Printed Paper Office the words appear:
“And the permanence of the Scottish Parliament is beyond doubt”.
There is an important point there. What I put forward in my new clause achieves what the Government seek to achieve, but without the problems identified by Members across the House in Committee.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said in Committee, we are dealing with hypothetical issues. We understand the political reality. I recall the occasion when the late noble and learned Lord Simon of Glaisdale opposed a provision designed for the avoidance of doubt on the grounds that there was no doubt in the first place to be avoided. I feel that we are in a similar situation: there is no doubt that the Scottish Parliament is permanent. The Smith commission has gone beyond its terms of reference to propose something that causes more problems than it solves. The Government may have issued a blank cheque to a third party, but, as I said at an earlier stage, it is not our job to cash it without question.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, indicated, we had a very lengthy debate on the issues in Clause 1 in Committee. He is right to point out that the wording in the Bill, as amended in the House of Commons, is not particularly felicitous and leaves open some questions of interpretation. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, indicated, as I said in Committee we are to some extent dealing with a hypothetical position. The real situation is that it is a political reality.
Of the various amendments, I find the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, probably the most logical. The problem I have with Amendment 2, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, is that there are two conditions for a repeal: that,
“the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal; and … a referendum … in Scotland on the proposed repeal”,
has a majority voting for it. The problem there is that you get the majority voting for it, then you ask the people in the body that you are about to repeal to consent to it, too. It may have received the majority among the people of Scotland because they want to get rid of it, but the people already there have a vested interest in hanging on to it. Therefore, I do not think that that is a particularly satisfactory situation.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on his amendment that states:
“Nothing in this section alters the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament”,
that that position is made perfectly clear in Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998.
As I said, at the end of the day this is a matter of political reality. The Smith commission gave the parliamentary draftsmen a rather daunting challenge. Paragraph 21 of the commission’s report said:
“UK legislation will state that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are permanent institutions”.
Therefore, it is almost necessary that there is some element of a declaratory nature in here. The sovereignty of Parliament is such that the Bill could be repealed, as any other Bill could be. That is why, at the end of the day, it does boil down to political reality.
As I said in Committee, in the Scottish Constitutional Convention that sat in the early 1990s we wrestled at great length with how to entrench any Scottish Parliament that was established. We looked at various possibilities, including some declaratory statements, but never quite managed to work out how we could do it. In the end, it was a referendum. My party opposed it at the time, but in retrospect the 1997 referendum gave the Scottish Parliament that legitimacy and has made it, de facto, a permanent part of our constitution. That is why, in the political situation we now have, it will be a political reality.
If the circumstances were such that the people of Scotland no longer wished for a Scottish Parliament then the political reality would kick in, and no matter what we put in this statute, that political reality would come to pass. That is why it is important that we try to get clarity in legislation as best we can. At the end of the day, this is a political matter, and I do not believe that it ever will arise, but if it did arise, a political solution would be found.
My Lords, I have simply one question to ask the Minister at this stage. Given the failure of the Government to respond positively to the submissions that were cogently advanced both in Committee and here today—the same, by the way, applies to many of the other amendments we discussed in Committee—is there some kind of agreement or understanding between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, perhaps as part of the fiscal agreement deal, to the effect that the Government will not allow any material amendment of the Bill in the course of these or subsequent proceedings? If not, I fail to understand how the Government have not advanced certain amendments which reflect the debate and the Government’s response in Committee to those amendments. I will refer to those particularly when we come to them.
My Lords, if I may follow the point just made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, I said in Committee that I believed the outcome of the Smith commission had the status of a treaty. I did not say that in any negative fashion, but I have seen all this before. Once these deals are done, we are going through the motions here. There is a political imperative: all the Front Benches signed up to whatever happened a week or 10 days before the referendum. What we have before us is the same procedure that flows from Europe, goes into the mixer in Whitehall and comes out as Smith-plus. That is where we are. It does not matter what the merits are of the amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth, and Lord Forsyth, or of any other noble Lord. The political decision has been taken and the Front Benches are paralysed, because they have reached a position, for political reasons. We know it, all noble Lords know it; the dogs in the street know it. That is where we are.
Perish the thought of such an outrageous consideration, but I suspect that the Government will be impervious to our arguments, if I might put it that way. The reason is that a political decision has been taken. We all know that. I happen to think that the Front Benches are wrong. I have had many years of experience of dealing with nationalism. It is a perfectly legitimate aspiration, in Wales, in Scotland, in Ireland or anywhere. There is nothing wrong with it. It is part of our national life. However, it is a fundamental mistake to believe that if you give folk the power, they will make such a mess of it that the people will be relieved to get rid of it when the time comes. That is not going to happen.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to the Danegeld. We have been doing this in Ireland for years—decades—and all it has done is grow, sustain and feed the forces that are anti-British. We will have later amendments where the very word “British” is the issue, irrespective of the substance of the matter we are debating. Therefore, I understand where the Minister is at. He is a very articulate and capable Minister but he has a concrete block and there is nothing he can do with it except present it to us and, sooner or later, it will be nodded through.
I understand the politics of this. I understand that an arrangement was entered into by the three main party leaders in September 2014. I regret that that happened, but it has happened. I also recall receiving an answer from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, in his role as Advocate-General, when I asked him about the sovereignty issue and which Parliament was superior. Of course, he said that ultimately, the United Kingdom Parliament was the superior body.
We have already heard that an agreement on the fiscal framework will have to be reached between the two Administrations, as we call them. Nomenclature is a big deal because the phrase “UK Government” now has to be used in everything. That creeps in and we have had it in our part of the world for many years. All these things are a creeping barrage, and they go on. We have decided to allow them to go on in the hope that the fire will pass over, and we will come out of our bunkers and hope that nationalism will have burnt itself out and destroyed itself. However, I argue that we are feeding the flames. However meritorious and important it is to draw attention to these things and to put them on the record, I argue that the status of the Smith commission report is not that of just any report; it has the status, effectively, of a treaty. That is a very dangerous position for us to be in, but it is where I believe we are. I hope the Minister will be able to shoot down my arguments one by one and convince us all that this is a complete mirage and a misunderstanding.
My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that there is a lot of imperviosity in the air today. He talks of feeding the flames. That is a phrase I and a number of colleagues have used many times over the last few years, certainly every time legislation affecting Scotland has come before the House. However, I make no apology for speaking very briefly in support of Amendment 1. Indeed, I support all the amendments in this group, with the possible exception of Amendment 3, proposed by my noble friend Lord Cormack. I sympathise with his sentiments but it is so palpably obvious that what he would like to achieve is outwith the terms of the Smith commission report, which is our sacred text, that it is highly unlikely it would make any progress.
In constitutional terms we should not forget that this is a shameful piece of legislation and has a shameful origin. The Constitution Committee was deeply critical of that fact. It was born out of panic and its contents decided by an arbitrary political cabal. Parliament’s role was blindly and blandly simply to pass it through into law. Clearly, my noble friends on the Front Bench have been given instructions not to yield an inch on any matter—not even a willingness to take things away and consider. “Get it through on all counts, unamended; don’t give anything away”. That is the sort of thing the Treasury says to other people, although in the last 24 hours we have noticed that it is sometimes a little bit inclined to breach its own rules—not always in the right way. Therefore, I think it is right to revisit this issue, however briefly, particularly because when we debated it very fully in Committee, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Hope of Craighead, and Lord McCluskey, and other distinguished lawyers and constitutional experts, including my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, all came in behind the proposition that it was dangerous to legislate in a meaningless and declaratory way; indeed, that goes against the Government’s own guidelines on drafting legislation.
The point is that Clauses 1 and 2, which we are debating amendments to, change nothing in law. They are essentially meaningless. They are declaratory. But they could sow a seed and some Scottish judge at some time in the future could build a case over these now justiciable matters. The implications for Scotland, and indeed for parliamentary sovereignty, would be very considerable indeed.
My noble friend Lord Dunlop and my noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie are curiously reluctant even to consider what was said then. At one level, the clauses change nothing because they are declaratory. In a sense they are meaningless, but their very meaninglessness carries a meaning of sorts and carries implications and uncertainties. Indeed, I wonder why the Scottish Government were so keen to have the changes made to which our Government gave way so readily in another place. It is still not too late to think again, and I remain ever hopeful that the Front Bench will relent.
My Lords, for the removal of any doubt, I do not support any amendments in this group. But I am pleased to be given the chance to try again to pronounce the name of the noble Lord, Lord Louth of Norton—I have done it again—the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, because he is a profound constitutional expert and he has my total admiration and respect, and I apologise for the mix-up.
The original draft of Clause 1 conveyed the permanency of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government as institutions but our amendments put their permanency beyond any doubt and put the decision of whether they should be permanent in the hands of the Scottish people. We do not want any change to this aspect of the Bill. It is with some trepidation that I enter this debate, with so many constitutional experts, lawyers and esteemed legal people, but there we are; I might bring the perspective of an ordinary Scottish person without having all those grand titles—which are all deserved, I hasten to add.
I do not think we should spend too long on this aspect of the Bill. We support the Scottish people having the final say on any of these matters. Without going too much into the history of things, in 1707 Scotland entered the United Kingdom as a full country. It did not sacrifice totally its right to have its own say. We entered as an equal partner. I think we have played our part, pro rata, on an equal basis. I believe strongly that that should be the case. The sovereignty of the Scottish people should be recognised. It is not a coincidence that one of our monarchs in Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots, was not known as the Queen of Scotland. Of course, her final legacy was that every monarch of Scotland and the United Kingdom since her death has been her direct descendant. That is totally in tune with the Scottish people. The Scottish people should have the say. I am sorry to say it but particularly the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to take everything away from the Scottish people is just not acceptable or realistic. Realpolitik has been mentioned and that is absolutely right.
I do not want to feed the flames but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that he could have been a bit more careful with his words, bearing in mind the history of Northern Ireland. My party and I—and, I believe, the Government—are not feeding any flames. I believe in the merits of what we have here, not just as expediency or something passed down from on high. I believe firmly in it and if any of these amendments are pressed, we will be voting against them.
My Lords, perhaps I may begin with a material concession. When the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to a capable Minister on the Front Bench he was clearly referring to my noble friend Lord Dunlop.
I thank noble Lords for their careful and detailed consideration of Clause 1, which expresses in law the understood position that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. I will endeavour to respond to each of the points made and, in doing so, I thought that it would be helpful to reflect on the adjustments made to this clause during the Bill’s passage through Parliament.
The Smith commission said that the United Kingdom’s legislation,
“will state that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are permanent institutions”.
In the draft legislation which the Government published in January 2015, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were recognised as permanent parts of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. At that stage, the clause did not contain a provision on a referendum. This drafting was retained when the Bill was introduced to Parliament in May 2015. Detailed feedback was then received on the clause during the Bill’s passage through the other place and from others such as the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. The Government reflected carefully on this feedback and on 18 September, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to include a referendum provision in the clause to strengthen the provision and underline our commitment to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. Following refinement of the drafting, the clause as it now appears was inserted into the Bill on Report in the other place.
I pause to observe in response to the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that I am not aware of any understanding between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government to the effect that no amendment will be allowed to the provisions of Clause 1 or to any other part of the Bill. The clause was also subject to substantial debate during our Committee in December.
I turn to Amendment 2, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. This amendment considers the specific wording of subsection (3) of the new section in Clause 1. Following our deliberations in Committee we have reflected carefully on this amendment, which I believe seeks to clarify details of the operation of such a referendum. None the less, our view remains that the current wording of the clause delivers the outcome needed effectively, as it reflects that in 2014 the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom and that that would mean a commitment to two Parliaments. New subsection (3) ensures that if the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government were ever to be abolished, which of course is a scenario that no one is envisaging, the people of Scotland would need to vote in a referendum to that effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke to Amendment 3, which would replace the requirement for a decision of the people of Scotland in a referendum with a requirement for a two-thirds majority in a vote of the House of Commons, in which 75% of Scottish Members of Parliament voted in favour. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the points he has made and recognise his desire to underline the centrality of this Parliament in determining the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. However, it remains our view that it is right to include provision for a referendum of the people of Scotland in the clause to strengthen the political statement, and to underline the commitment of this Parliament and this Government to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.
The referendum provision rightly reflects the importance of the people of Scotland in determining Scotland’s constitutional future. In the referendum in 1997, the people of Scotland overwhelmingly supported the creation of a Scottish Parliament. In the independence referendum in 2014, they reaffirmed that they wanted to have two Parliaments by voting to remain within the United Kingdom.
Although the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and Government has never been envisaged, it is right that if it were ever to be, it should be on the basis of a decision of the people of Scotland. It is important to be clear there are no circumstances in which the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is envisaged. People in Scotland voted for two Parliaments, and that is what they shall have. However, in responding to these points, I would state that, in this entirely hypothetical circumstance, this Parliament would of course play its full and proper role, just as it did in the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1998. That was of course a matter that we addressed in some detail in Committee.
Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, would replace Clause 1 in the Bill with a new clause which would provide for a referendum before the Scottish Parliament and Government could be abolished and define those eligible to vote in such a referendum as those entitled to vote in local government elections in Scotland. As a number of noble Lords noted during our debate in Committee, we are dealing in entirely hypothetical circumstances. Such a referendum is not envisaged, but in those hypothetical circumstances, the precise detail of such a referendum would of course have to be determined, as is the case with any referendum, if such a scenario were ever to occur.
The proposed new clause also seeks to acknowledge concerns raised by some noble Lords in Committee with regard to the wording and effect of the clause. It states that the sections of the Scotland Act 1998 establishing the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government will not be repealed unless electors in Scotland vote for this in a referendum, and does not directly reference the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. We have carefully reflected on these points since Committee, and our view remains that the clause as drafted is appropriate. The Smith commission said:
“UK legislation will state that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are permanent institutions”.
We consider it important that the clause reflects the language of the Smith agreement, in order to underline the political statement being made. I emphasise, as has been acknowledged by your Lordships, that it is a political statement. The purpose of the clause is to reflect in legislation the political understanding which already exists. It is our view that Clause 1, as drafted, benefits from this straightforward, unambiguous statement, in keeping with Section 1 of the Scotland Act 1998, which states:
“There shall be a Scottish Parliament.”
Before the Minister moves on, may I ask just one question? In the earlier debate, I asked whether the words “the people of Scotland” included Andy Murray, the tennis player, and he could not answer. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, has suggested a simple amendment that would make it clear that the persons entitled to vote are not the people of Scotland—which is a slightly meaningless phrase—but those entitled to vote as electors in a local government election in Scotland. What is wrong with accepting that?
As I indicated, we are dealing with an entirely hypothetical situation. Should that situation ever materialise, the terms of the referendum to be held would be determined according to the circumstances in place at that time. It would not be appropriate to anticipate the circumstances of such a referendum, which might be many millennia in the future. It is therefore left open in these terms.
I turn to the amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. The points he has raised in them are those he made in Committee in December, and I assure him that we have continued to reflect carefully on the points made at that time. My noble friend has focused on whether Clause 1 impinges on the sovereignty of this Parliament. I thank him for his consideration of this point but must respectfully disagree that there is any question that it does. Constitutionally, the United Kingdom Parliament cannot bind a successor Parliament: the sovereignty of Parliament remains. The purpose of paragraph 21 of the Smith commission agreement, and of Clause 1 in the Bill, is not to change the constitutional position but to reflect in legislation the political understanding that already exists. The clause thus delivers the Smith commission agreement while respecting the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.
Amendment 1 would reinsert the words “recognised as”, which were removed from Clause 1 by government amendment on Report in the other place. The Government have been quite clear throughout that there has never been any question that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are anything other than permanent. However, we have listened to feedback on the clause, and it was felt appropriate to amend the clause to take account of the observations made. The criticism levelled at the clause was that the provision was weak. The Government have strengthened the provision to demonstrate the commitment of the United Kingdom Parliament and Government to the Scottish Parliament and to the Scottish Government.
Amendment 4, tabled by my noble friend, provides that the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and Government would have to be agreed by United Kingdom-wide referendum. The referendum provision in Clause 1 rightly reflects the importance of the people of Scotland in determining the existence of the Scottish Parliament. It is important to be clear that there are no circumstances under which the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is envisaged. However, in responding to the points raised by my noble friend, I state that, in that entirely hypothetical circumstance, this Parliament would of course play its full and proper role, as I mentioned previously.
Amendment 5 would state in the Bill that Clause 1 does not limit the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. Again, I hope I have already sufficiently addressed that point. Clearly, the sovereignty of this Parliament remains, and is unhindered by the provisions. I therefore urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether he can help me on one point. I made it clear in Committee that the amendments I proposed to this part of the Bill were based on recommendations of the Scottish Government, which were made plain in June last year. The wording of the amendments is not my creation; it comes from Edinburgh, from people who were studying the Bill and trying as best they could to clarify the points they thought needed clarification.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has drawn attention yet again to the obscurity of the phrase, “the people of Scotland”. One of the virtues—it may be small, but it is there—of my amendment is that it makes clear that it is a referendum of the people in Scotland. I simply cannot understand why the Minister is not prepared to make some concession to clarify that matter. To go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, I should have thought that the Government would take on board collaboration between the two Governments to try to improve the Bill and achieve as much clarity as possible. I really am mystified why the Minister is so stubborn and will not accept the need for some further clarity.
I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It determines clearly and unambiguously that there can be no question of any unseen, secret understanding between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government when his proposals in the amendments have their source in Scotland, with the Scottish Government. That perhaps puts that in its place.
On the question of the referendum, I reiterate the point that I made earlier: this is a wholly hypothetical situation.
I am obliged to my noble friend for reminding me of the question. As I said earlier, we are dealing with a wholly hypothetical situation. It is not envisaged that this will ever arise, but in the event that it does, the question of who will be engaged in the referendum and the manner in which it will be conducted will be determined at that time according to the circumstances that exist at that time, rather than by some predetermination, perhaps millennia earlier. That remains the Government’s position on that point.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 6 not moved.
Clause 2: The Sewel convention
7: Clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 5 to 7 and insert—
“(8) But the Parliament of the United Kingdom may not pass any measure applying to Scotland that makes provision about a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
(9) A provision is about a devolved matter if the provision—
(a) applies to Scotland and does not relate to reserved matters,(b) modifies the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, or(c) modifies the functions of any member of the Scottish Government.(10) In subsection (8), “measure” includes any Act, whether a public general Act, a local and personal Act or a private Act, and any statutory or other instrument made under an enactment.”
We return to Clause 2, and to a problem that cannot be dismissed as purely hypothetical. We are dealing with something of day-to-day significance—the Sewel convention, and what should be done about it, in view of what was said about it by the Smith commission. The amendment that I propose is virtually the same as that which I proposed in Committee, though somewhat simplified. As I said a moment or two ago, its source is a paper provided by the Scottish Government last June. Therefore, it is something that I would have thought that the Minister would wish to take seriously.
I go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, described as a sacred text. What one finds as a source for this discussion is in the heading to Pillar 1 in the Smith commission report:
“Providing for a durable but responsive constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland”.
Paragraph 22, as I think we all know, says:
“The Sewel Convention will be put on a statutory footing”.
The adjective “statutory” is the foundation for the point that I made last time and seek to make again.
I reiterate the point that I made in Committee about the dangers of lack of clarity and certainty in responding to the recommendation of the Smith commission. We are talking about legislation—not hypothetical legislation but something that may occur in reality, relatively early, in the near future. One problem with legislation that may be open to scrutiny or criticism on its failure to be compatible with some standard or another is that, so long as that argument hangs in the air, it gives rise to uncertainty. It is right to remind the noble and learned Lord that, when the Scotland Act 1998 was being framed, it made special provision for what was to be done in the event of a challenge being made on the possible incompatibility of the legislation with convention rights. The mechanism was to allow these matters to be referred to the Privy Council for scrutiny before the measure became an enactment. I do not think that we have ever seen that happen with regard to Scots legislation, but there have been two or possibly three cases from the National Assembly for Wales, where challenges have been made, and been referred to the Privy Council for resolution. That has the great advantage of putting beyond doubt the uncertainty that was created by the challenge, because one then has a decision of the Supreme Court to resolve the issue.
The problem with the Sewel convention, if it is put into statute at all, is that it raises the question of what it is—how far it reaches and what it covers—and, of course, there is the question of whether it will always apply or, as we find in the clause as it is at the moment, will apply “normally”, which begs the question of what is or is not normal. The virtue of the wording that the Scottish Government put forward is that it attempted to put the Smith commission recommendation into the form of a statutory provision that could then stand on its own feet and, it was hoped, resolve these issues. The formula that we see in Amendment 7 does not include the word “normally”; it also attempts to explain the reach of the Sewel convention as it is now, which is no doubt wider than Lord Sewel thought it was when he devised the reach of it in 1998. As it has grown, it now covers the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the functions of members of the Scottish Government, as Amendment 10, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, appears to recognise as well.
Without going over in great detail the ground I covered in my speech in Committee, the defect of the present wording is that it does not address the Smith commission in the way in which it was asked to address it by putting the convention on to a statutory footing. It seeks to retain the convention as a convention and by introducing the word “normally” it creates uncertainty about when it should and should not apply and does not really attempt to address what the Sewel convention really means.
The formula I am putting forward, which I repeat, yet again, is the product of thinking in Edinburgh, does not use the word “convention” or mention the name of Lord Sewel, because that is no longer necessary, but simply reproduces what is currently understood to be the reach of the convention in statutory language. That is its great virtue. There is an enormous advantage in adopting that language and avoiding the uncertainties to which I referred which will hang over legislation and be extremely unfortunate if one is seeking to give effect to legislation, particularly that which may involve the expenditure of money, which possibly might have to be recovered if the legislation is struck down.
Of course, that raises the question of whether the provision in Clause 2 is justiciable. There is great virtue in Amendment 12 which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, is putting forward. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is making the same point in Amendment 13 which at least states that the issue is not be questioned in a court of law. As it is, that question is unanswered in the Bill. The answer might be that the Minister can say that it is not justiciable, but I respectfully suggest that that is not a sufficient answer. The court will be asked to examine this if it remains in its present state, the judges will have to consider what it means and what its effect is, and there will be people who, for all sorts of reasons, may wish to take advantage of the uncertainty that the present clause demonstrates.
There are great dangers here. They cannot be dismissed as hypothesis—they are a reality that the Government have to face up to. In the interests of responsible government and, if I may say so, harmony between Edinburgh and this House, it would be wise to give further very serious consideration to the formula which I am putting forward in order to resolve these problems. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope the occupant of the Woolsack will not to have to do that because I very much hope that the Minister will accept the irrefutable logic of the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. My amendment 8 is very simple. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, for adding his name to it. When we debated similar issues in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, indicated that he supported this amendment. He has now got a rather ingenious substitute; he just puts quotation marks around “normally”.
It is very important that the Minister should heed the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. We want clarity in this measure. In the previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, made an extraordinarily effective but rather cynical speech. I was tempted to get up, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean did, and say we are wasting our time. It really is a very unsatisfactory way to legislate that an extra-parliamentary body, with a prior commitment from leaders of parties to give it a blank cheque, then in effect tells Parliament what to do. From a constitutional point of view, it is an outrage that that should happen. In saying that, I am not making any personal political criticism of the noble Lord who presided over the commission or of any members of it, but for it to be given that unfettered power and then to come to Parliament with a Bill that is not really going to be changed at all is deeply unsatisfactory.
If the Minister cannot accept the admirable amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I hope that at the very least he will accept that the word “normally” is fraught with all sorts of dangers. The question of what is normal and what is abnormal is justiciable and will be taken to the courts, so why have it in at all? Taking out that word and perhaps coming back at Third Reading with a slight extra clarification—even to substitute such words as “in the most exceptional circumstances”—would be better than just having “normally”. I honestly do not think that by accepting this amendment, or undertaking to come back at Third Reading with something similar, the Minister would be selling anyone down the river at all. It would not alter the thrust or the purpose of the Bill. Many of us find the Bill troubling and unsatisfactory but we in your Lordships’ House have a duty to try to improve, and this would be a very modest improvement. I commend it to the Minister.
My Lords, I need not repeat the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has put forward again so clearly. We need say nothing more about “normally” except that we were anxious to help to improve the Bill. This was not anti the Government or anti the Scottish Administration.
My second point relates to Amendment 12 in this group, which is to do with the question of justiciability. For the reasons that have been advanced at some length, so I need not repeat them, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and I are agreed that this word is justiciable. It would be very foolish of the Minister to reject the advice of a man as distinguished in the law as the noble and learned Lord. The word “normally” is bound to appear before a court. If the UK Government decide to legislate on a matter that is devolved and say, “This is not a normal situation”, and some person, whether in the Scottish Government or affected by the legislation, says, “No, it is not”, and it goes to court, the court cannot say, “We’re not going to resolve this matter”—it must answer the question. So to say that it is justiciable is exactly right, and it is wrong for the Minister to ignore that. The Minister kindly suggested that he and I should meet, and we did, but I am afraid that we simply agreed to differ on the issue of justiciability.
I should mention one other point that does not arise out of these two amendments precisely, which is that this is to do with the Sewel convention. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, will permit me to quote what he said in Committee on 8 December. In response to the argument that the Smith commission stated that:
“The Sewel Convention will be put on a statutory footing”,
he said, referring to the noble and learned Lord speaking from the Front Bench:
“Surely on his own argument the Government will have to withdraw Clause 2, not only on the grounds of what constitutes a statutory footing but because it embodies the words of Lord Sewel, which he spoke when the Scotland Bill was before Parliament, and not the convention as understood at the time the commission produced its report”.
The noble and learned Lord rejected that, saying:
“I do not accept that, because it appears that what is understood by the Sewel convention is the expression of that convention by Lord Sewel during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 through Parliament”.—[Official Report, 8/12/15; cols. 1506-07.]
I must confess that it astonished me to hear that. Can the Minister make it clear whether the Government stick by that statement at col. 1507, which was repeated in response to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose? In due course I hope to move Amendment 12.
My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that we support the wording provided in his amendment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. Indeed, we agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that the word “normally” seems at best unhelpful in legislation.
Our first two amendments, Amendments 9 and 10, provide for the consent of the Scottish Parliament to be required when UK legislation makes or attempts to make any alteration to the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of the Scottish Government—Scottish Ministers. The amendments would ensure that the current convention is fully reflected in the way it has been understood and applied in practice.
The part of the convention currently covered by Clause 2 is effectively only half of the convention. It is to apply when UK legislation makes provision for issues which are within the legislative of the Scottish Parliament. As has been stated, Clause 2 reflects almost exactly the words used by Lord Sewel in the House of Lords during the passage of the Scotland Act on 21 July 1998, when he said that,
“we would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament”.—[Official Report, 21/7/1998; col. 791.]
These comments in this Chamber effectively recommended the establishment of a convention but it has operated more widely than he indicated or anticipated. We should not blindly follow his words in 1998 rather than the convention as it works now. The constitutional practice of putting forward a legislative consent Motion where the legislative competence is being affected, amended or altered was applied, for example, to the Scotland Act 2012, and there are good constitutional reasons for both elements of the convention to be safeguarded. That should be the correct constitutional approach to the Scottish Parliament. Legislation which without consent reduced the scope of the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence, would be just as controversial, and perhaps more so, than UK legislation which encroached on matters within its competence.
How long has the convention operated in this way? Since 1999, the convention has been understood to require the consent of the Scottish Parliament when UK legislation will alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of Scottish Ministers. This was exactly how it was expressed in the memorandum of understanding that was agreed between the UK Government and Scottish Ministers back in 1999. It is also reflected in Devolution Guidance Note 10, which was issued by the Department of Constitutional Affairs back in 1999 and gives information as to how the UK Government operate the convention in practice—and that is how it has been operated.
The Smith commission recommended that the convention should be put on a statutory footing. Do we think that the Smith commission had in mind the words of Lord Sewel in 1998 in this Chamber, or do we think it had in mind the convention as it has operated every day of every month of every year between the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers and the UK Government and UK Ministers since 1999? I think the answer is very obvious, and it is bizarre that the approach taken in the legislation by Ministers in Committee has been supported and defended in the way that it has. It would be so easy to make this change and to introduce the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. It would change nothing; it would simply reinforce and strengthen the convention as has been requested by the Smith commission.
The other amendment that we have put forward, Amendment 13, is designed to prevent Clause 2 being subject to litigation in the courts, which has also been touched upon. During the debate on 8 December last year there was a very healthy and informative exchange between the noble and learned Lords, Lord McCluskey, Lord Hope and the Advocate-General—all of them learned, so I will not try to rank them—as to the extent that Clause 2 could give rise to court action concerning UK Parliament legislation that had been passed with or without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Clause 2 creates uncertainty as to whether or not it is justiciable. There would be a real risk of an attempt to challenge the validity of future UK legislation on the basis that the legislation does not comply with Clause 2, and we recognise that risk. There may be a variety of views as to how the courts would answer any such challenges that might be made. However, the advice that we received from the Law Society of Scotland is clear: first, that it is undesirable that Clause 2 should give rise to legal uncertainty of this kind from the outset; and secondly, that to avoid legal uncertainty it is important that an express provision be made, to put beyond doubt that the provision currently inserted by Clause 2 is not intended to have its application subjected to the jurisdiction of the courts.
Our amendment follows exactly the wording of the Parliament Act 1911. I believe it is worthy of careful consideration and, indeed, of implementation. I hope that the Minister will on this occasion respond positively to these constructive suggestions on these matters.
My Lords, I would like to speak briefly to my Amendment 11, which would delete the words,
“without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has, in Amendment 7, tabled an amendment which I think came from the Scottish Government. I have to say that I do not particularly like that amendment, which is supported by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, because what it sets out is what has actually happened by grandmother’s footsteps over the years, as the noble Lord has just pointed out.
The original basis of the Sewel convention was as a kind of courtesy. It was a convention that we would not normally do something without telling, asking or consulting the Scottish Parliament first. However, it has been turned into a veto for the Scottish Parliament on legislation that affects devolved matters. That is a huge change from what was intended at the time of the passage of the original Scotland Bill in 1998. I am clinging to the past with my amendment. I thought that the convention had gradually been changed into something far greater and therefore my amendment seeks to take out,
“without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.
I also support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Cormack, which would leave out “normally”. I know that the Minister is a very successful advocate and a very important Scottish lawyer but perhaps I may give him a little bit of advice based on my experience as Secretary of State. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, was the Lord President of the Court of Session and the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, had a distinguished career as a Scottish judge, both of them gave me quite a hammering on occasion. I discovered that if I got into a fight with them, I usually lost. I am not a lawyer but it seems as clear as night follows day that the word “normally” is going to be a problem. We had a long debate about this in Committee and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister has not brought forward amendments to deal with it.
Indeed, and there is another voice in support of the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Cormack and supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. It is incomprehensible why the word “normally” should be included.
The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, is quite right. What was the Sewel convention has changed into something else. It is a veto, and that is almost certainly what the Smith commission was thinking of. The noble Lord is absolutely right about that. Amendment 7, moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would in effect give legislative effect to what has come to be the practice. Putting into statute what Lord Sewel, back in 1998, said by way of explanation of how the relationship between the two Parliaments would operate is a complete nonsense—a point made over and over again in Committee.
I am hoping to cast a fly here and catch those on the Opposition Front Bench. The great mantra that we have had from them over and over again is that we absolutely have to be true to the Smith commission and make sure that its recommendations are implemented. Amendment 7 would provide for that. So are the Opposition Front Bench going to speak against an amendment whose effect would be to deliver the Smith commission proposals—something that the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said he would never do? I look forward to hearing the response from that Bench. It is clear that Amendment 7 would deliver what the Smith commission is proposing. I do not like it because I would prefer this Parliament to be free to pass legislation, consulting the Scottish Parliament in a courteous way but not giving it a veto, which is what I think the Smith commission was seeking to do. I am utterly opposed to leaving in the Bill the word “normally”, which would almost certainly result in the courts being dragged into a dispute between this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, and that would be thoroughly undesirable.
For all those reasons, I think I am inclined not to press my Amendment 11 when the time comes, but to switch sides and support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth—who is undoubtedly constitutionally correct—and to support my noble friend Lord Cormack in taking out this word “normally”. There are two words that I would like to take out of the Bill: one is “normally”, and the other is “Sewel”. I tried to do that in Committee and actually got past the clerks an amendment which deleted “Sewel”; but unfortunately, due to the intervention of noble Lords opposite, who argued that it was not really terribly good to alter the name of a clause in that way, I was not able to press it again at this stage in the consideration of the Bill. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, who was responsible for that.
I say to my noble friend that the great advantage of accepting Amendment 7 is that we would get rid of “normally” and we would get rid of “Sewel”; and we would have something that is absolutely clear in statute and delivers the Smith commission proposals—which, we keep being told, is what this Bill is all about.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, as has already been mentioned.
As has been stressed, this clause is supposed to embody the Sewel convention. Let us be clear as to what a convention is. We are talking about a convention of the constitution. A convention is a non-legal rule of behaviour that is considered binding by those who are covered by it and is justified by being, as David Feldman put it, “right behaviour”. There is a moral imperative, and compliance with the rule is invariable. Invariable practice, lacking a moral base, does not establish a convention. Usual practice, as distinct from invariable practice, does not establish a convention.
Conventions develop: a precedent is set and followed and a practice is established from which there is no deviation. In addressing this House in 1998, Lord Sewel recognised that a convention is something that developed. However, his use of the word “normally” meant that what he had in mind was not and could not be a convention. What has developed is a practice, and one that has extended beyond what he said.
Clause 2, as it stands, makes no sense. Conventions may be transposed into statute, but once in statute the convention has gone; it has been superseded by statute. We saw a recent example with the convention governing votes of confidence in the House of Commons. That has been superseded by Section 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. There is no longer a convention. What we have with Clause 2 is the inclusion of the words of Lord Sewel in a form that does not constitute a convention but with the Government believing that it is a convention and seeking to maintain it as a convention even though enshrined in statute. I was going to say that I hope that that makes sense, but of course it does not make sense. This clause is nonsense.
The Government cannot justify it on the grounds that it implements a recommendation of the Smith commission, because it does not—that point has already been stressed. The Smith commission recommended putting the Sewel convention on a statutory basis. There is a Sewel convention, as we have heard, but it is different from what Lord Sewel enunciated in 1998. Putting the words of Lord Sewel on the face of the Bill does not put the Sewel convention in statute. Indeed, the clause as it stands narrows and undermines the convention. It narrows it by omitting a practice that has developed and been pursued on a continuous basis, and it undermines it by removing the essential feature that established it as a convention. A convention, by definition, establishes the rule of behaviour that is taken as binding by those who engage in that behaviour. Clause 2 permits, in effect, the Government to say, “We are bound by, this except when we decide not to be bound by this”. What is in the clause is not a convention: it is a declaration of good behaviour.
The problems with this clause have been recognised by the Scottish Government. When the Constitution Committee visited Holyrood as part of its current inquiry it was told by the Scottish Minister, Fiona Hyslop, that the provisions of the Bill may weaken what has been the operation of the Sewel convention. She was accompanied by an official, Ken Thomson, who said, “You need to enact the convention rather than the quotation”. In short, they were clearly alert to the failings of this clause. They recognised that the clause does not encompass measures that alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of Scottish Ministers. The Sewel convention does encompass such measures. As the Law Society of Scotland put it in its briefing to us:
“Far from implementing what the Smith commission recommended, this clause would shrink what is currently meant by the Sewel convention”.
If the Government are serious about putting the recommendations of the Smith commission into statute, let them do so. There is at present a Sewel convention, which appears to be working without controversy, but if there is a commitment to transpose it to statute, let us make sure that it is done properly and that we are not left with a ridiculous clause that is neither fish nor fowl. You cannot have a convention and a statute. You can have one or the other. Either Clause 2 is replaced or it is dropped. If left as it is, it will be a public demonstration of how not to legislate.
My Lords, I may be the only person present in the Chamber who was here when Lord Sewel issued these words. Maybe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, were there at the same time. As I recall, we were debating these matters late into the night, and at 1 am or 2 am, when we came to Scottish and Welsh matters, there was a blockage. The words that Lord Sewel spoke were a very welcome resolution of a particular problem that had arisen. I recall afterwards that when it was referred to as the Sewel convention we used to rib Lord Sewel that he had unwittingly added his name to something that seemed to have become a great constitutional principle.
I intervene in this debate to refer to the problems in Wales as illustrative of the problems that your Lordships face. We have had three trips to the Supreme Court between the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Office in a very short period of time because we have not had the ability to pass primary legislation until quite recently. Legislative competence is always at our fingertips in Wales. We talk about it all the time. Indeed, the Welsh Labour Government talk about it all the time in holding up the consideration of the current draft Wales Bill. This issue seems to require either a mechanism that resolves the problems or something that is absolutely solid and certain in this particular piece of legislation.
Those who served as my colleagues during the coalition Government in the Wales Office tell me that legislative competence was a weekly discussion and deals were done between the Wales Office and Cardiff in order to solve where the parameters were. Of course we do not have reserve powers devolution in Wales; it is rather different from Scotland. We have been rather envious that Scotland has not so far had to go to the Supreme Court to sort things out in this way. It seems to me, in following my noble friends, that the way it is expressed in the Bill is such that Scottish lawyers will become very wealthy in their trips to the Supreme Court to sort things out. At the moment I am trying to work on a mechanism in Wales that will resolve these difficulties if that cannot be done between Governments in a simple way, not the way that has been arrived at so far. So, go carefully: canny down the brae, as they say, when it comes to consideration of this particular part.
My Lords, some time ago I indicated to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that I support his approach to this clause. It is vitally important to consider the question of whether it is intended that the clause, whatever its terms, should be subject to decision by a court of law. The situation so far as Wales is concerned—and I think it would be true for the Scottish Parliament—is that in some cases its powers are subject to judicial scrutiny. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is not of that kind. It has never had its principal functions subject to judicial scrutiny. If a term is put into this Bill, which will then become an Act, that determines when the United Kingdom Parliament can act, that will be a complete innovation. It does not matter what the terms are, however precise and well drafted, I cannot see how that could be excluded unless provision is made in the Bill which states that the decision on this point is to be a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament. This I regard as an extremely serious point which the Government have to decide.
It is not a question of agreeing with the Scottish nationalists. The amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, seems to be in accordance with what they would like to see; that is, the furthest stretch of the convention, which is called the Sewel convention for various reasons, amounting to what is really a complete ban. That is what I think the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, does, but that does not cut out by itself the idea that a court of law could determine whether the United Kingdom Parliament had acted lawfully in making an Act which could affect Scotland. That is why I strongly support Amendment 12 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. That concept must be put into this clause at some point in order that the matter be not justiciable.
What has become the convention now seems to be government papers. As far as I am concerned, I had not heard of them until this discussion. It is certainly not a convention of the Houses of Parliament in the sense that they are narrated in that context. But I am not so concerned about the precise terms in which this finishes up. What I am very concerned about is that it should not be subject to a judicial decision. The Parliament of the United Kingdom has never been subject, certainly in the present situation, to the courts of law and I think that it would be a tremendous mistake to make provision in a Bill which could only have that effect.
Do I understand the noble and learned Lord correctly that, without choosing between them, there are two ways to solve the problem he considers to be so important? One is to do what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has suggested—delete the word “normally”—and the other would be to adopt either Amendment 12 or Amendment 13, which provide specifically that the matter shall not be justiciable.
I do not regard them as alternatives; rather that Amendment 12 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, is absolutely essential. The other form of wording, that it,
“shall not be questioned in any court of law”,
comes from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, would be a possible alternative. But something of this kind is in my view absolutely essential if we are setting out in statute a restriction on the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate.
My Lords, I should say that if we get to the stage of putting this to a vote, I would like to support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. In Committee, I drew out the question about the progression from the wording that Lord Sewel set out at that stage of the 1998 Bill and what it had become. It seems to me that the beauty of creating the legislation in statute rather than in a convention is that we know exactly what we have got. It may be that the Government are arguing that we never want to pin things down and that they should be free to do whatever they like at all times, but I think we in this House prefer to have things clearly stated so that people know where they are. Of course, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has also made this point —that you cannot have a convention and a statute—so the Government have to make a choice as to which road they will go down. At the moment there seems to be a lack of clarity on many levels, so to have an amendment which has been drafted by the Scottish Parliament and recommended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, is not a bad beginning.
My Lords, can the Advocate-General tell us whether the use of the word “normally” is to allow the Government sufficient flexibility in the event that a devolved Parliament actually breaks the rules of an international treaty obligation? The United Kingdom is signed up to a number of international treaties, and it is possible that the actions of a devolved legislature could break one of those conventions. Indeed, we are on the cusp of that at this very time over certain issues concerning rights in Northern Ireland, and it could happen on other occasions. Is it therefore the Government’s view that because they want that flexibility, they have chosen to use this language so that if, for instance, the Scottish Parliament does something which breaks our international obligations in terms of legislation, this Parliament would have the ability to correct it?
It is a bit unfortunate that the Constitution Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, is currently looking at a range of issues which include whether there are any countrywide values or other rights that we believe any United Kingdom citizen should be entitled to. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, who is not in his place, has advocated something approaching this on a number of occasions. I therefore wonder whether the Minister considers that the provision as it stands allows for that or could allow for it, or whether that was the intention behind the language. I have to say that I do not agree with the Sewel convention. In my home circumstances, the practice was that from 1921, Parliament effectively ignored what Stormont did, and we all know where that led.
I agree that there is not much point in having devolution if you continuously intervene over the heads of the devolved legislature, but at the same time there is a rational argument for saying that you cannot allow things just to drift on without having regard to the wider issue and to our international obligations. Therefore, I wonder whether that is what is at the back of the Government’s mind. If so, it would be most helpful to have an explanation.
My Lords, I will touch on a rather similar point to the one that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, just made. I was very surprised by the way the Minister reacted at the end of our discussion in Committee on this point, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made a very convincing case and explained the status of the amendment he put forward, as he has done again today. We clearly have two duties: first, to put the Sewel convention, as it operates today, on a statutory basis; and secondly, not to make a defective statute. It seems to me absolutely clear that the inclusion of the vague word “normally” makes this statute defective and a cause of continued dispute. We cannot do that.
I looked at how the Minister reacted when this point was made in Committee. I wonder whether he was not saying something: like the noble Lord, Lord Empey, I wonder whether there is a reason why the Government wish to retain the possibility of acting in breach of the convention as it operates. I wonder whether, for example, he was thinking about the Defence of the Realm Act or the Emergency Powers Act, which almost certainly would go into areas in a national emergency or a state of war where the Scottish Government would normally have fully devolved power. This seems fanciful, but I find it very difficult to think of a logical explanation for the Government’s position that we must write “normally” into the law and thus guarantee dispute in courts of law.
If there are circumstances in which the Government envisage that they would want to act in breach of what has been the convention and what is about to become law, they need to spell out in the Bill what they are. They need to replace the word “normally” with a subsection that defines those circumstances. It seems very unlikely that this is their thinking, but if it is, I hope that the Minister will explain it to us. Otherwise, I can think of absolutely no reason for not supporting the amendment in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.
Would the noble Lord support this possible solution? There is quite some time between now and Third Reading. If the Minister, with the support of others—he would certainly have the support of the Liberal party—could approach his new friends in Edinburgh in the Scottish National Party, and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, and say, “This is a mess agreed by Smith. It’s been demonstrated that it can’t be done. Would you agree that we simply drop this clause?”, he might well find that they would be happy to let it be dropped and the Government could renew a statement that we will do what the Smith commission envisaged.
I very much hope that the Government will give a serious, considered reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. If it involved suggesting coming back at Third Reading with some variant of his wording, I would want to listen to that. But, it seems to me that we simply cannot do what the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, is asking for, which is to drop this altogether. It is an important point in the Smith report that the House of Commons has gone along with, and on which all the political parties agree. The idea of just dropping the clause is not possible, but we need to write one that is not defective.
My Lords, normally when the loyal Opposition hear valid and powerful arguments from many noble Lords and noble and learned Lords, they listen acutely and seek to put their weight behind those observations, particularly when they are put into an articulate amendment. However, in this case we will not support these amendments.
I suspect that the question “Why?” might come from the lips of certain noble Lords. It is our judgment that the political imperative suggests this position: if any of these amendments are passed by this House, they will be overturned in another place. It will be immediately accepted that that would be wholly undesirable. I notice the unfortunate distortion of the normally calm features of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but he will fully understand, as one of the United Kingdom’s most able politicians over many years, that political imperative can be of considerable importance.
I was puzzled by the noble and learned Lord’s assertion that he would be unable to support this because throughout endless hours of consideration of this matter, we have been told repeatedly that the Opposition are here to ensure that the letter of the Smith commission is delivered. The amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would do precisely that. We have been correctly advised that the clause is defective and does not do that. So the Labour Party will actually prevent the implementation of the Smith commission proposals. I venture to suggest that that is an albatross that some people may hang around its neck.
I appreciate that the ornithological reference might necessarily be unhelpful to the party that I represent at this particular moment in time. However, the wording of the Smith commission is not to be treated as if every single word has been precisely defined. One of the great traditions of the British approach to such matters is to retain a certain flexibility in the way one deals with issues as and when they arise. When they arise, one occasionally notices other constitutional observations.
I am extremely grateful to the genial noble and learned Lord, but is he really saying that if this House exercises its constitutional right and sends something back to the other place it is acting in some way ultra vires? Surely if the other place decides that it does not want to accept the advice of your Lordships’ House we can reflect on that. The noble and learned Lord knows my constitutional position there. But for this House not to use the very limited authority that it has and pass a clause that is totally unsatisfactory and, in the opinions of many noble and learned Lords, nonsensical—can he advise us on what he is doing?
Oh, yes, he is. I hear observations that I am mischaracterising him, but no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will be able to look after himself in due course. If he is suggesting that I am proposing that the House of Lords should never do anything that would go against the other place, then that is an entirely incorrect assessment of what I am saying. What I am trying to get across is a recognition that we are dealing here with something that is very much sui generis. This is terrain in which we have not normally been operating. This is an area of legislation which goes well beyond the situation that underlies the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament.
The noble Lord is basically saying that, albeit various people, not least the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, have said that Clause 2 does not actually deliver the Smith commission, the Labour Party is prepared to live with the situation whereby the Smith commission proposals are not delivered, for some political imperative. I am not quite sure what that political imperative is. If it is a question of time, ping-pong would not take weeks. It is still perfectly possible to get the Bill delivered by the Easter Recess. I am not quite sure what that political imperative is, particularly if it is not going to deliver what, up until now, we thought the Labour Party wanted to deliver.
The noble and learned Lord wants to know whether I am correct in identifying a political imperative. These are matters of judgment and in judgment, one can be right and one can be wrong as matters go by. There is an assessment made in this judgment and when one makes a judgment and comes to a particular conclusion, if that conclusion is one that one wishes to live with and follow through, well, one does that. I think that that is something that the noble and learned Lord will appreciate, because he has spent many years in politics and has had to realise that these political judgments have to be made. These political judgments can sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong, but this is the judgment that we have made. It would be most unfortunate, on this of all areas, were this to involve tension, difficulty, a contest, friction between this House and the other place. On this point, therefore, we adhere to the position we have thus far asserted.
Let me make another point. Clause 2 states:
“But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.
That is language that is, at least, redolent of what a convention might be. It is the type of language that has been seen in the past in legislation in Northern Ireland and elsewhere—it is not a complete innovation. It is language that can be understood, and understood by courts. However, the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for example, states:
“But the Parliament of the United Kingdom may not pass any measure applying to Scotland that makes provision about a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.
We have heard much in this House on the extent of this Parliament’s sovereignty. Might it not possibly be seen—I would be very interested to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on this—that this language, saying what the Parliament of the United Kingdom may and may not do, is itself an attempt to trench on the sovereignty of the UK Parliament? Therefore, if one is going to find tremendous support for such an amendment, one has to be conscious of what one is doing constitutionally, because this would appear to be another innovation.
The Opposition are not against innovation. Some innovations can be good, some innovations can be bad; people adopt positions here and there depending on their assessment of those various innovations. However, this innovation is one we are disinclined to immediately jump into and support.
I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord offers such support for this amendment. I will explain my surprise. I do not see this as an exact simulacrum of what Smith proposes. This is an attempt to change the sovereignty of this Parliament. I do not understand that the Smith commission was quite so ambitious in the way it wished to proceed. I hope that that answers that question.
I am attempting to follow the noble Lord down the tortuous passes of his philosophical musings, but does he not realise that there is conflict and tension today between the Welsh Labour Government and the Conservative Welsh Office because the areas of legislative competence are frayed, or overlap, or whatever? We must have something that is certain and he is defending something that is clearly utterly uncertain and ripe for the Supreme Court.
There is a view, of course, that the Supreme Court is developing a constitutional role and that that is a matter that might be an adornment to the developing UK constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, suggests that these are philosophical musings, but the philosophical musing comes entirely from the other side. I am looking at the political reality of how this can be dealt with in relation to Scotland. There may be many interesting and complicated issues in Wales, and I would be fascinated to hear more about these in due course, but at the moment I am trying to put forward our position on these amendments.
Considerations of political imperative, therefore, are very much to the fore and we will accordingly not support these amendments. I hope I have dealt with the various issues that have been raised, but I see the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, shaking his head. If there is a particular point he wishes me to address, or there is any issue that troubles him, I would be happy to do so.
The noble and learned Lord asked whether he had dealt with all the issues. He has not dealt with the issue, raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and by my noble friend Lord Stephen, of the importance we attach to having some subsection in here which would make the matters non-justiciable. We would welcome the view on that of my predecessor as Advocate-General for Scotland.
I shall finish answering the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, before I come to the interesting point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. I thank him for the name check.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, wanted to know what I was getting at, what my point was and why I was waffling, to use his word. I am trying to deal with various issues that seem to trouble many noble Lords and many noble and learned Lords. The point I am trying to make—the simple nub—which he will readily understand, is that we perceive, and our judgment is, that the political imperative suggests that these amendments be not passed in this House. It is as simple as that.
To deal with the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, about whether the matter may be looked at from the point of view of the purely legal analysis, in looking at this clause now—we have not always looked at it this way—we see that there is considerable virtue in having the support of the Minister’s statement on how this clause will be perceived by this House, and why this House is putting it forward in these terms. That statement by the Minister will, of course, feature were this matter to come before the courts, where it would be of some consequence in how the court would decide whether this language suggested that the issue was justiciable. I hope that offers a measure of response.
My Lords, to pick up the noble and learned Lord on that point, I think he is suggesting that a Pepper v Hart statement by the present Advocate-General would put the matter beyond doubt if it came before the courts. But surely the point is that we do not want it to come to the courts at all because that is when uncertainty comes in. Very important matters, such as people’s investment decisions, may be involved and they will not know the outcome until the courts have decided the matter. Our measure, which has stood the test of time since the Parliament Act 1911, would mean that the issue would never come to the courts at all, because, if it does, the genie is out of the bottle.
I feel that genies should not come out of their bottles; they should probably stay in their lamps. However, the point here is that, when one looks at this clause, no matter how one seeks to alter it, there is the potential—such are the fertile minds of our legal colleagues—to find one way or another in which any issue can be brought into court. My noble and learned friend the Advocate-General for Scotland, his predecessor and even his predecessor have frequently had to deal with issues by saying at no stage was this ever intended to go before a court, and yet we found that it did come before the courts, and in those areas the court had to make a decision whether it was a matter that was before the court or not. This is just the way our constitutional arrangements work. That has stood the test of time and it enables the finest minds of the Supreme Court to consider these types of issue. At this point, I will perhaps draw to a close, but if—
The noble and learned Lord has made many points but I think he would accept that there is very wide cross-party support for the amendments being submitted today on this matter. After the 18 minutes for which he has been on his feet, I think none of us is any the wiser as to what the political imperative to which he refers is.
I consider that it has never been the role of the loyal Opposition to increase the wisdom of Members of this House but we often attempt to leave them better informed. If I have wearied noble Lords over these 18 minutes, I apologise, but I offer this one little candle of comfort—I will weary them no more.
Sorry, who is the Chief Whip in the other place? I am afraid it is not a man or woman I have ever met, so if there is some suggestion that I have been “nobbled” and my arm pushed up my back by some person wholly unknown to me, I think I would have noticed. The suggestion that my noble friend Lord McAvoy would in any way try to persuade me of anything—
Perhaps I can help the noble and learned Lord because his Whips’ Office told my party’s Whips’ Office that is exactly what happened. They have been told by the other end not to support any amendment, however sensible, which would lead to a situation that could result in ping-pong.
As every Member of this House—every noble Lord, every noble Baroness—who has spent any time in the other place and has been involved in the political toings and froings will know, what is said between Whips of different parties is normally regarded as confidential. Therefore, while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, may have an observation that somebody has told him, that is simply a matter for his Whip, I guess. I will try to sit down now unless anyone—
I can say that the Whip did not consult me on that proposition.
I am grateful for the detailed consideration that has been given to this clause and, indeed, for the time that has been given up by a number of noble Lords in meeting both me and my noble friend Lord Dunlop to discuss aspects of the clause.
I begin by considering the extent or scope of the provision with which we are dealing. It touches on amendments moved by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope, Lord McCluskey, Lord Wallace and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Stephen.
What about Lord Cormack?
I will come to that in a moment because normally I would come to “normally” when I am addressing “normally”, and that is when I will address the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I would not want him to feel out of this.
The Smith commission agreement stated:
“The Sewel Convention will be put on a statutory footing”.
That is precisely what Clause 2 achieves. Let us step back for a moment to the Sewel convention. What did Lord Sewel say? He said that,
“we would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament”.—[Official Report, 21/7/98; col. 791.]
Of course, the word “normally” was important. I will come back to that because it is a word that respects the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. Without it, you might have had a provision that intruded very materially on the sovereignty of that Parliament. That was what was said at the time in 1998.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, observes that that is not a convention in the conventional sense; and, of course, he is right because a convention is something that grows up and is invariably applied or employed. Where you have the word “normally”, you are saying that there can be a qualification or an exception, so, strictly speaking, in constitutional terms, the Sewel convention is not a convention. But, you know, by convention it became a convention. And that is where we are. Over a period of years, what was referred to as the Sewel convention was understood not only by the United Kingdom Parliament but also by the Scottish Government and by the Civil Service. They understood and applied the Sewel convention, albeit that in strict constitutional terms it was not a convention. They operated it successfully and without difficulty until now. Then the Smith commission decided that the Sewel convention should be put on a statutory footing. Of course, the technical difficulty is this: if you express a convention in statutory terms, it ceases to be a convention.
In a sense, we do not have that problem here because, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, pointed out, it was not a convention in the first place. But let us avoid those technicalities and potential difficulties. It was understood to be a convention and it was decided that it would be expressed in statutory terms and put on a statutory footing. Therefore, it would in a strict sense cease to be a convention. But what was understood to be the Sewel convention when the Smith commission was meeting and determining this matter was the convention that the United Kingdom Parliament would not normally legislate in respect of devolved matters. That was the beginning and end of what was understood by the convention.
Is there any difficulty about that? Not really. The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, referred to various working documents employed by the Civil Service, such as Devolution Guidance Note 10, which is not a document that was ever approved by any House of this Parliament but was developed by the Civil Service for the application and operation of what was understood by the Civil Service and everyone else to be the Sewel convention. Behind that stood a memorandum of understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, referred to a memorandum of understanding being entered into in 1999. The memorandum of understanding was entered into between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Ministers. It also included the Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee, as it then was. But it was not entered into just in 1999; it went through seven different iterations or editions. Indeed, the memorandum of understanding was last agreed to by these parties in October 2013.
What did the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Ministers understand was meant by the Sewel convention? Paragraph 14 of the memorandum of understanding says:
“The United Kingdom Parliament retains authority to legislate on any issue, whether devolved or not”.
That is important, of course, because it restates the sovereignty of our Parliament. It goes on:
“It is ultimately for Parliament to decide what use to make of that power”.
Again, it restates the sovereignty of our Parliament. It continues:
“However, the UK Government will proceed in accordance with the convention that the UK Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature”.
That is what the parties understood in October 2013, as well as in 1999. Indeed, it goes on to say:
“The United Kingdom Parliament retains the absolute right to debate, enquire into or make representations about devolved matters. It is ultimately for Parliament to decide what use to make of that power, but the UK Government will encourage the UK Parliament to bear in mind the primary responsibility of devolved legislatures and administrations in these fields”,
and so it goes on.
There is no difficulty in understanding what the United Kingdom Government, the Scottish Ministers and everyone else understood was meant by the Sewel convention, not only in October 2013 but when the Smith commission report was issued in 2015. That was the scope of the convention that the Smith commission recommended should be put on a statutory footing—not Civil Service working notes, not DGN 10 and not further requirements.
Does the Minister accept that since 1999 the practice has been that if there is a proposal to alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of the Scottish Ministers, the convention is that a Motion should go before the Scottish Parliament in relation to that matter? In other words, the convention on these separate issues has been that there would be a decision of the Scottish Parliament on that issue.
I cannot accept that because of the language employed. It was not the convention that dictated that; it was a practice that grew up as a consequence of the convention having been entered into. It reflected, for example, working note DGN 10. That is why I say there was a clear understanding by the parties not only in 1999 but in October 2013 of what was meant strictly by the Sewel convention. I also commend to the noble Lord the heading to paragraph 22 of the Smith commission report, which was also agreed to by the parties to the Smith commission. It makes it abundantly clear what the parties understood was meant in this context by the Sewel convention.
I quite appreciate that over the years practice has developed and no doubt practice will continue to develop, which is one reason you do not want to freeze practice in statutory form. What you want to express in statutory form is the strict requirement of the Sewel convention and its scope. It is important to remember that by doing that we preserve not only the convention as it is understood and has been understood but the sovereignty of this Parliament. For this Parliament is sovereign and can legislate for devolved matters, just as the Scottish Parliament can legislate for devolved matters.
The matter that Lord Sewel was addressing when setting out the principle that this Parliament would not normally legislate with regard to devolved maters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament was this: to make it clear that, despite Parliament’s sovereignty, the devolved legislature would be left to get on with the business of legislating in devolved areas. No one wanted the prospect of legislative ping-pong between the two Parliaments. That is also set out—as I say, quite clearly—in the memorandum of understanding, as it has been revised on seven occasions and agreed to by the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Ministers.
The question of the words “not normally” was raised. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, among others, pointed out that the word would be justiciable. Of course, all the words of a statute are justiciable in the sense that you can go to a court and ask the court what it believes they mean. But it is not the word that is not justiciable, it is the issue. The question of whether the United Kingdom Parliament can legislate in devolved areas is not justiciable. It is for the United Kingdom Parliament to decide whether on some occasion it will do what it normally, usually or generally does, or will not do so, for it is a sovereign and supreme Parliament. That underlines the importance of the words “not normally” and to remove them from this clause would be to impinge on the sovereignty of this Parliament in a most unprecedented and extraordinary manner.
I am listening very carefully to my noble and learned friend and basically he is saying that the Sewel convention is working perfectly well; everybody understands what it is. We are hearing from very expert opinion that the clause as it stands is rubbish and is subject to judicial challenge, so why does he not just drop the clause and stick with what is working, which is the convention as it exists?
I am obliged to my noble friend for his invitation. I refer to the recommendation of the Smith commission report, which was that it should be put on a statutory footing, and this Government are determined that it will be put on a statutory footing. I hope that answers my noble friend’s inquiry.
That brings me to my noble friend’s Amendment 11, which he spoke to but followed up with the comment, “You can ignore my amendment”. I would like to treat that as a precedent in the case of my noble friend but not on this occasion. If he has spoken to his amendment, I have to respond to it.
Given the noble Lord’s invitation to ignore it, it is more than a novelty; it is rather generous. Be that as it may, I come back for a moment to the question of justiciability. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and others of your Lordships have sought to ensure that the provisions of Clause 2 will not create a justiciable right. I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind that amendment, but our position remains that it is not necessary because Clause 2 cannot and does not create a justiciable right. I emphasise that it is not a question of whether the word “normally” is justiciable, as every word of a statute is in that sense capable of being interpreted by a court. It is the issue that is not justiciable. I return to a point that I mentioned briefly—
I had not intended to interrupt until I heard the noble and learned Lord just now. Since the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is simply a rule of recognition by the Queen’s courts that Parliament should be sovereign, is it not also a matter for the Queen’s courts and not for Ministers or government, or even Parliament, as to what is or is not justiciable?
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I would suggest that it is a moot issue because there have been occasions where this Parliament has expressly stated that an issue will not be justiciable, but of course the courts themselves will then look at that exception to see whether it is enforceable and lawful. There is that further point, so it is a further layer placed upon the issue by this Parliament but it is not conclusive. I believe there have been occasions where the courts have looked at statutory provisions in which Parliament has purported to say, “This is not a matter for the courts”.
Then why does the Minister not simply accept Amendment 12, which says that,
“the decision as to whether or not the circumstances are such as to allow the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate with regard to any devolved matter shall be a decision for that Parliament to take, and shall not be justiciable in any court of law”?
I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord and I can express it only in these terms. It is the Government’s considered position that the clause implicitly determines that point in any event. It would therefore not be necessary to express it in the terms proposed in the amendment.
The Minister says that the Government think that it is implicit in the clause. What is the problem in making it explicit? It would be interesting to consider whether their view is that there is a problem in making it explicit, because if there is not it would be very much to their advantage to accept the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey.
I note the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, but I can observe only that it is not appropriate to layer legislation with unnecessary detail and that if the matter is to be regarded as implicit in the present clause, it would be inappropriate to add a further clause. I cannot elaborate upon the point at this stage.
The concluded position of the Government is that Clause 2 as drafted delivers what was required by the Smith commission agreement by placing the Sewel convention, as it is properly understood, on a statutory footing. It is in these circumstances that I invite your Lordships to withdraw or not move their amendments.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those noble and learned and noble Lords who have supported my Amendment 7. I am also extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord McCluskey, for the points they made in support of Amendment 12, which in a way hangs together with it, because they have identified a crucial issue before us.
With all due respect to the Minister, he cannot get away with simply declaring that the “issue” is not justiciable. He has chosen the word “issue” as meaning something different, but the same point arises. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, identified the point precisely: there is a crucial difference between the position of Parliament legislating—and Ministers declaring what words mean when they legislate—and the position of the courts. The courts will assert their right to interpret legislation according to the meaning of the words as they judge them to be. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has said, the courts cannot close their door to arguments. People will bring arguments before the court, and when an argument is before the court it has to decide on it. The Minister simply cannot get away with the idea that we can be assured that this issue will never be before the courts and require determination.
That identifies a point of great difficulty before the House this evening. We are being invited to accept legislation which has uncertainty built into it, with all that that means. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said earlier, one of the great strengths of legislation passed in the Westminster Parliament is that it has never been doubted that the courts cannot question that legislation. Their duty is to give effect to it. But once one writes in a clause such as Clause 2, it opens the door to the kind of challenges which give rise to uncertainty and all the difficulties that an Executive face in giving effect to legislation.
Although the Opposition have not really expressed it in quite these terms, hanging over this whole debate is the question of timing. As most of us know, on 23 March the Holyrood Parliament goes into Recess before the Scottish elections and at some date before then, or maybe on 23 March, it will have to pass a legislative consent Motion to give effect to the Bill we are discussing. Time is slipping past rapidly—there is less than four weeks to go.
I can understand the concern of both Front Benches that legislation should not be held up by any risk of ping-pong between the two Houses. There is of course one way to solve this. It is for the Government, who have a majority in the other place, to accept an amendment or move a government amendment which seeks to resolve the problem we have been discussing. I can see that there are dangers in a Government being asked to support an amendment which has come through against their wishes in this House. They would no doubt seek to overturn it in the House of Commons. However, the responsibility ultimately rests entirely on the shoulders of Ministers to give effect to the points that have been made so carefully and fully by various noble and learned Lords in all parts of the House. It is their responsibility to avoid the risk of uncertainty which hangs over this clause.
I have thought very carefully on whether I should seek to divide the House and I have decided that it would be better to give the Government further time to consider this issue. I give notice that I will come back to it at Third Reading because it is so important. We really cannot allow it to slip by without further consideration. I stress that the responsibility is on Ministers’ shoulders; they control this issue. There is of course the question of whether the Scottish Parliament will accept a measure which does not give effect to paragraph 22 of the Smith commission agreement. It may judge that the clause does not meet the terms of the agreement.
In a way, that is not the really crucial point: it is whether we can accept a measure which will have a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it for all sorts of constitutional reasons. It is surely the Government’s responsibility to solve that problem one way or the other. I am sure that many Members of this House would be willing to discuss this further with the Government to see whether it can be solved. I will not therefore press my amendment to a vote this evening— but on the basis that we have not left the argument, which is still there to be addressed. It is for the Ministers to face up to that and, I suggest, to come back to the House at Third Reading with an appropriate amendment to remove the uncertainty in the interests of everybody. For these reasons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, subject to the caveat which I have made as clear as I possibly can.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 12 not moved.
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“(9) The application of subsection (8) shall not be questioned in any court of law.”
Amendment 13 not moved.
14: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Cooperation between the Scottish and United Kingdom institutions: reporting
(1) Within a year of the passing of this Act, and annually thereafter, Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State must review the level of cooperation between the Scottish institutions and the United Kingdom institutions following devolution, and prepare a report.
(2) In the review under subsection (1), Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State must consult such persons as they consider appropriate, taking into account—
(a) the level of transparency and sharing of information between the Scottish institutions and the United Kingdom institutions;(b) the level of cooperation between the Scottish institutions and the United Kingdom institutions; and(c) the sharing of examples of best practice between the Scottish institutions and the United Kingdom institutions.(3) Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report prepared under subsection (1) before the Scottish Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament.
(4) In this section, “Scottish institutions” means—
(a) the Scottish Government,(b) the Scottish Parliament, and (c) Scottish authorities to which power is transferred under this Act.(5) In this section “United Kingdom institutions” means—
(a) the Government of the United Kingdom,(b) the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and(c) United Kingdom authorities from which power is transferred under this Act.”
My Lords, this amendment would enable annual reports after the enactment of the Bill. These would be produced by Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State. The subject would cover three aspects: following devolution, the level of co-operation between Scottish and United Kingdom institutions; transparency and information sharing between them; and the sharing of best practice between them.
An agreed aim is to build up good practice to benefit Scotland as well as other parts of the United Kingdom. In this respect, while addressing a similar proposal during Committee stage of the Bill, we noted that both Governments have already paved the way in Scotland. The Scottish Government have done so by facilitating the seven-city Scottish Cities Alliance as an independent affiliation, yet one which, through collective focus and effort, can help each of those cities the better to serve its families and communities. The United Kingdom Government have done so by delivering what is called the city deal and thus, through disbursement and loan, invest directly into the economies and infrastructures of a number of Scottish regions and cities. Glasgow has been funded in this way, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that Aberdeen and Inverness are due to come next.
Therefore, we begin with heartening evidence that the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments together have started out in the right way. As indicated, their combined actions to advantage Scottish cities and regions already correspond to the reference of this amendment: co-operation, transparency and building up good practice to benefit citizens.
Equally, the amendment presents co-operation and transparency as essential precursors in the first place for engendering good practice. They are also necessary to an efficient process of devolution. If achieved, such in turn will have derived from constructive bilateral government work, covering many areas including the implementation of more devolved tax and welfare.
Both Parliaments and Governments must, of course, receive regular updates on funding plans and fiscal changes. On all matters at all times, we should seek improved transparency and public awareness arising from proper levels of co-operation between the two Parliaments and Governments.
In his very useful report, these procedures are strongly advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who also stresses the importance of transparency, of building good practice and, through devolution, of benefiting all regions and communities. The purpose of the amendment is to connect those exhortations to the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, as we move on to this next amendment, I hope your Lordships will agree that it is appropriate, as we are on Report, just to remind the House that the Companion sets out that a speaker other than a mover, a Minister or a noble Lord in charge of the Bill can speak twice only if granted the leave of the House, to explain a material point of his own speech that may have been misunderstood or misquoted. If we are to make progress, I would be grateful if the House would adhere to the guidelines in the Companion.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I am really glad that I was in when he said that, because I am quite shocked. My understanding of what the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said the other day is that, because of the truncated nature of the proceedings, which we agreed to, and because a lot of these things were not able to be dealt with in Committee, we would treat this as if it was in Committee, to allow proper debate and discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, clearly gave us that assurance, and I am afraid that what the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, is suggesting goes completely against that. I hope everyone will pay no attention whatever to what the noble Viscount has said.
Further to that point, perhaps the noble Viscount could confirm that that is the position. To be fair to my noble friend, he said that it was a matter for the usual channels, but we were led to believe that the usual channels would accede to this. It would be completely unacceptable if we did not have that flexibility for Parts 2 and 3, particularly as all the Statement today said was, “Haven’t we done a great job?”. It did not tell us what this was about: we are not getting that until tomorrow, which is Thursday. Although the House is sitting on Friday, there is not a great deal of time for people to absorb it.
My Lords, whether or not any undertaking has been given up to now, it is painfully obvious that we ought not to proceed with Report given that we have had no debate at all on the financial framework in Committee under Committee conditions. It would be quite wrong for us to go all the way through the Bill when we are not able to have adequate discussion. Indeed, the Statement we heard this afternoon said there would be adequate discussion. My noble friend need not reply to this now, but I suggest to him that we really ought to have, in the course of this evening’s debate, a clear statement from the Front Bench that the proceedings on the latter part of Bill will be such that we can debate it fully.
Will the noble Lord give way? I had hoped to be able to discuss this in an orderly fashion, and I apologise if it has taken longer than the House would expect. I fully realise the pressure under which the House has been dealing with this Bill in general. Although we started the Bill an awfully long time ago—I think it was November when we had Second Reading—we have been in an expectant state for some days. Such is the situation that I recognise that noble Lords will want a little more time on Monday on those groups of amendments that deal with the fiscal framework. I understand that. I think it is the agreement of all in the usual channels that this would be a satisfactory way of dealing with it. It will be an informal agreement, with no resolution of the House, but I can announce it to those here today who I know are interested in this matter.
I thank my noble friend Lord Younger for holding the fort, but I happened to see the situation in which he was placed and I thought it would help matters if I made the position of the Government clear in this respect now. Many noble Lords involved in this debate are used to absorbing complex documents very quickly—that is why they are here—and I hope they will take the opportunity of the weekend to swot up, so that when we meet on Monday to discuss those aspects of the Bill, they will be in a position to add to our debate in a constructive way.
I do not think my noble friend was in the Chamber when this discussion began. The issue was not whether we would have more time next week, it was simply whether the rules which normally apply at Report—on speaking more than once, for example—should apply on the financial provisions, where we have had no discussion yet.
I am sorry: did I not make that clear? Although there will be no formal resolution to this effect, on those groups of amendments to which the fiscal framework applies, we will adopt those rules which we normally have in Committee. If that is agreed across the House, I am quite happy with that. My noble friend must have misheard what I was saying. I may not have been in the Chamber, but I was listening to the debate.
As the person who initially raised it, and as one of the usual troublemakers, I fully accept what the Chief Whip has said. That is what we all understood was to be the case. As long as the discussion on the fiscal framework and related matters can be, informally, treated as if it were Committee rather than Report, I am sure that that is the way forward.
That is very good news.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for allowing me to add my name behind his on the amendment. I must thank both Ministers for a very generous slice of their time when we discussed the thinking behind the amendment in their offices a week or so ago. The amendment concerns intergovernmental relationships, and I remind the House what the noble Lord, Lord Smith, wrote in his foreword:
“Both Governments need to work together to create a more productive, robust, visible and transparent relationship”.
I was very encouraged to hear, when the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, repeated the Statement, that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, had again talked about how important intergovernmental relationships were. The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, talked about there being a basis for constructive engagement and how he was keen on building intergovernmental relationships.
The amendment concerns what I would call, in commercial terms, a feedback loop. When we are building a heavily devolved United Kingdom, it is very important that there is a structured, formal feedback loop between the Westminster Parliament and each of the devolved Administrations. I had the benefit of a visit to Canada in November, when, by sheer chance, I was able to sit down with a friend of mine who is a well-respected and very senior constitutional lawyer there. We talked about how the feedback loop exists and has been working in Canada. He confirmed that the loop went up and down; it consisted of a frank and honest interaction, and he regarded it as being open and constructive. That is not to say that he thought it was a total panacea—he identified one or two areas where there were weaknesses—but he said that through the creation of that feedback loop, an enormous number of poisonous things had been drawn from the lion’s paw in Canada. The amendment should be seen as something that begins to create a feedback loop. After all, we have a lot of devolution to come in the United Kingdom, and we will have to create a standardised approach to the feedback loop. The clear drafting of the amendment, which has developed since Committee, could be a valuable tool to kick it off.
We will have to have a feedback loop sometime. I feel that it is entirely consistent with the Smith commission agreement to include in the Bill something which starts a successful feedback loop. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister, if not now, when we actually have a Scotland Bill before us, when we can begin to put in place a formal structure that will help relationships between the two Governments.
Finally, I observe that if we go without a feedback loop, eventually there will be some form of car crash. A great dispute will grow up which may not have arisen with the feedback loop, and we will then be trying to retrofit such arrangements.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the names of my noble friend the Earl of Dundee and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I remind the House that, quite apart from what the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said when reporting on his commission’s work, the Government, in their reply to the Smith commission, also accepted the call for greater co-operation and respect. They said:
“Effective inter-governmental working is essential to guarantee the best possible provision of services and representation for the people of the UK; a renewed commitment to build these relationships and explore better ways of working, as recommended by the Smith Commission Agreement, will require close collaboration between the UK Government and Devolved Administrations”.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, and his commission, were absolutely right in endorsing that strong, unambiguous message.
It is perhaps a source of regret that in 2013, the recommendations of the Calman commission, which reported in 2009 in this very important area of intergovernmental co-operation, have to a large extent been either ignored or progressed in a way that has not been wholly effective. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and I, as members of the Calman commission, were largely responsible for what became the largest section of the report, with 23 recommendations that dealt with intergovernmental co-operation, interparliamentary co-operation and inter-institutional co-operation. We on the Calman commission were very clear that this was a very important ingredient of achieving a stable, devolved constitution.
In coming to those 23 recommendations in 2009, we were acting on the evidence that we had heard from countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany and Spain—from memory—where the message was very clear. That was that the mortar between the bricks that delivered a stable and resilient devolved constitution came from relationships, not just primary legislation that determined which powers were devolved and which were reserved.
I encourage the Government, who have had both the Calman and the Smith commission recommendations, and now have this worthy amendment in the name of the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Kinnoull, to take seriously the message that it contains.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to support the spirit of the amendment in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Kinnoull, and to endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, said. The noble Earl referred to the Calman commission, on which he and I served and were charged specifically with looking at intergovernmental and interparliamentary co-operation. We found that there was much to be done. It came down to simple things such as passes for Members of the Scottish Parliament to access the Palace of Westminster and MPs to access the Scottish Parliament. There is much more that can be done.
I make only two further points, because there is a lot in the amendment that should give us impetus. Legislation cannot do it on its own; a culture requires to be built up as well. First, I wanted to pick up on,
“the sharing of examples of best practice between the Scottish institutions and United Kingdom institutions”,
in subsection (2)(c) of the proposed new clause. I have always believed that it is one of the potential strengths of the devolution settlement that we have in the United Kingdom that we not only have a United Kingdom Parliament that deals with England and in some cases England and Wales on otherwise devolved matters but we have Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland legislation. There is much that we can do to learn from each other. There are things that might have been tried that did not work which there is no point in repeating elsewhere. For example, the Scottish Parliament took the lead on the ban on smoking in public places, which other devolved institutions then followed. But the sharing of best practice has probably been patchy at best.
Secondly, the Bill does not allow this proposal to go beyond the terms of the amendment, but clearly it is not just about interchange and exchange between the United Kingdom institutions and the Scottish institutions—it is something that we will want to do for the Welsh and Northern Ireland institutions as well. We can all learn from each other, but I hope that the House will endorse the spirit of the amendments that have been tabled.
My Lords, I very much support the amendment introduced and moved so ably by my noble friend. It is over a dozen years ago now that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House undertook an inquiry into devolution and inter-institutional relationships within the United Kingdom. We found exactly what the Calman commission found later—that what should be in place to encourage inter-institutional relationships was not there. Had the recommendations of the Constitution Committee report been implemented, we would be in a much stronger position now than we are.
There is a tremendous amount to support in this amendment, because it injects a useful discipline. It focuses the mind, because if consideration must be given to this each year it encourages reflection, as has been mentioned, addressing such things as best practice. That is wholly for the good; I see no real arguments against it, and I very much hope that my noble friend’s amendment will get a positive response from the Front Bench.
My Lords, I repeat briefly the support that I gave these proposals in Committee. The noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Kinnoull, are to be congratulated on persevering on this issue. Like my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, I, too, served on the Constitution Committee when, 14 years ago, we drew attention to the inadequacy of intergovernmental relations. They have got worse, not better, since then. We produced a report a year ago in the committee drawing attention to intergovernmental relations across the board, and we are still awaiting a response on it from the Government. I know that they are thinking about it, but they are thinking very slowly or, perhaps, very thoroughly.
I hope that this amendment will trigger further thought from them. I do not know whether the proposed new clause covers the whole comprehensive gamut, but it certainly looks like a very good effort to me. I reassure my noble friends that, if they do not prosper with this clause in this Bill, we have another report coming out from the Constitution Committee shortly, and I dare say that it is possible that we will return to the matter then.
My Lords, I, too, on behalf of the Labour Party, would like to record our support for the principles of the amendment moved by the noble Earl. This is a good, positive amendment and way ahead and a more positive discussion than some that we have had previously. We have to develop these links and prove that there is a better away ahead than just conflict, narking away at each other and coming to a conclusion. I am reasonably sure that the Government will resist the amendment, but I hope that its wording and, more importantly, the spirit behind it, form a template for further discussions and proposals coming from the UK and Scottish Governments.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and in particular to my noble friend Lord Dundee and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. We had a very useful discussion, and we all agreed that it is an important principle that we improve intergovernmental relations. While it is the differences of opinion between Governments that attract the headlines, behind the headlines a lot of very good co-operation is going on between Ministers and the officials of the Governments of all the devolved Administrations. A very good example of that was referred to by my noble friend Lord Dundee, who highlighted the recent co-operation between the two Governments to deliver an Aberdeen region city deal. That is a very good example of good practice, and how the political differences of the Governments can be set aside and people can come together and work together to deliver for the people of Scotland.
As noble Lords are aware, are aware, intergovernmental working is an important element of the Smith commission agreement, and one that this Government take very seriously. As I set out on the first day in Committee, the Government are working collectively with all three devolved Administrations to review the intergovernmental arrangements that we have in place and ensure that they make for effective working relationships. As part of the quadrilateral review, we are jointly considering options for improving parliamentary scrutiny and wider transparency of intergovernmental relations. However, this must be considered in a way that ensures we reach a lasting agreement suitable not just for Scotland but for all four Administrations of the United Kingdom. I shall update the House as that work progresses. I understand that this House and, in particular, the House of Lords Constitution Committee is anxious to see the results of that thinking, and I assure my noble friend Lord Lang that we are thinking very thoroughly. My hope is that a review will conclude shortly. However, final agreement will not be reached until the recommendations can be considered by the heads of each Administration at the next JMC(P). A date for that has yet to be agreed.
The Government recognise the desire of noble Lords and the UK public to understand the relationships between the four Administrations, and we note the importance of ensuring that appropriate processes are in place to do so. None the less, it is sometimes necessary to allow for private space, in which open and honest policy discussions can take place. As part of the ongoing review, we are jointly considering options to ensure that the appropriate balance is struck to meet both those needs.
As noble Lords will appreciate, it would not be possible to report on every aspect of intergovernmental relations. However, regular reports are already made to Parliament, including under the Scotland Act 2012—in particular, on the implementation of the tax provisions. More generally, the Scotland Office and the office of the Advocate-General outline engagement, both routine and exceptional, that they have with the Scottish Government in their annual report, which is of course laid in Parliament. I note the ambition and sentiments expressed by noble Lords, and will take that very much into account when producing these reports. I undertake to the House tonight to look at how we can further improve what information we provide to Parliament.
On the third day in Committee, we had a very interesting debate about welfare, which is obviously a key aspect of the Smith agreement. We are breaking new ground in that area, where there will be concurrent powers. I was somewhat surprised that noble Lords were not aware of the joint ministerial group on welfare, but I take that very much to heart. It is our responsibility to make sure we look at how we can make the process of how these groups work more transparent.
I hope I have given some indication of the Government’s commitment to transparency and co-operation within intergovernmental relations. A statutory duty to report on or implement such measures is unnecessary and would be too prescriptive. For example, the memorandum of understanding has been amended on six occasions. There is a need for flexibility here. I accept the spirit behind this amendment, but I urge the noble Earl to withdraw it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate. To summarise, there are three aspects which colleagues have picked up. First, there is the strong support and recommendations of commissions, not least the Smith commission and the Calman commission, to which my noble friend Lord Lindsay referred. It is almost a sine qua non that intergovernmental support should always be canvassed to make things work properly. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Norton pointed out that there is the extra benefit of the discipline that this inculcates so that there can be an efficient focus. Secondly, we have the precedent to which the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred when he pointed out that in Canada intergovernmental approaches and feedback are most productive. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, mentioned the third aspect, which is building up good practice, and that the culture of so doing can be part of the proceedings, quite obviously for the better. I am very grateful to the Minister for his undertaking, in the context of the way in which things are moving; in the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Clause 3: Elections
15: Clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 17 and 18 and insert—
“( ) Omit the words from “The franchise at local government elections” to the end of the Exceptions and insert—”
My Lords, I shall first address Amendments 15 to 21. Under the Bill, and in line with the Smith commission agreement, the timing of Scottish parliamentary elections is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, subject to the provision in the Bill that Scottish parliamentary ordinary general elections may not be held on the same day as UK parliamentary general elections, European parliamentary general elections or local government elections in Scotland.
Following a request from the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, the UK Government agreed to bring forward an order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act, rather than use the Bill, to give the current Scottish Parliament the power to determine the length of the next Scottish Parliament following the poll in 2016. The order devolved to the Scottish Parliament power to legislate on the date of the first Scottish parliamentary ordinary general election after the 2016 poll. Following approval in the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, the order was made by Her Majesty in Council on 8 October and came into force the following day. The Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill, currently before the Scottish Parliament, provides for the Scottish Parliament ordinary general election scheduled for 7 May 2020 to be moved to 6 May 2021.
We have tabled a number of technical amendments to make changes to a number of clauses in the Bill that are required as a result of the Section 30 order. Essentially, these amendments revoke the Section 30 order and remove provisions from the Scotland Act inserted by the order, which will be unnecessary as they overlap with provision made by the Bill. The area of legislative competence being devolved to the Scottish Parliament by the Bill is such that the Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill will still be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament following the revocation of the Section 30 order. Additionally, we have tabled an amendment to Clause 5(2) to improve the drafting of this provision in order to ensure that it operates as intended.
We have also tabled an amendment that removes a reference in Clause 10 to a provision of the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2010 which is now unnecessary as this instrument has been revoked by the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2015 that was made by Scottish Ministers and which came into force in December 2015.
In addition, I wish to give notice that the Government consider that drafting improvements are required to the reservation of the timing of ordinary local government elections in Scotland where the poll would otherwise be held on the same day as an ordinary general election for the Scottish Parliament, and to some provisions in Clause 5 relating to this reservation, to provide clarification and ensure that the drafting of these provisions operates as intended. As a result, the Government intend to table amendments to clarify and improve the drafting of these provisions at Third Reading.
Amendments 15 to 21 are technical amendments which will ensure that the clauses in the Bill relating to elections operate as intended.
I now to turn to Clause 11, which contains the supermajority requirements and acknowledge the input and assistance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on this matter. I thank him for his willingness to discuss this matter and to propose improvements to the provisions, which are reflected in government Amendments 23 to 26.
Clause 11 requires that the Scottish Parliament must pass certain legislation by a two-thirds majority. Government Amendments 23 to 26 to this clause will enable a Bill in the Scottish Parliament to pass to Royal Assent if the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament decides that a simple majority is required, the Bill is passed with a simple majority but is referred to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agrees that only a simple majority was required. The measure currently provides that in those circumstances, the Bill must be reconsidered by the Scottish Parliament before it can be passed for Royal Assent. We have taken account of the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in order to make a little more sense —if I can put it that way—of the provisions of Clause 11 on the application of the supermajority. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think I should thank the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland for his kind words. The amendments improve the intelligibility of these provisions. It is important that the system work as smoothly as possible, so I am extremely grateful.
Amendment 15 agreed.
16: Clause 3, page 3, leave out line 35 and insert—
“( ) In the Interpretation provision, omit the definitions of “Digital service” and “Ordinary local election” and insert—”
Amendment 16 agreed.
Clause 5: Timing of elections
Amendments 17 and 18
17: Clause 5, page 5, line 27, leave out “from the words” and insert “for the words from”
18: Clause 5, page 6, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) Omit subsections (5A) to (5C).”
Amendments 17 and 18 agreed.
Clause 10: Minor and consequential amendments: elections etc
Amendments 19 to 21
19: Clause 10, page 11, line 29, at end insert “and (2C) (date of elections to the Parliament).”
20: Clause 10, page 11, line 32, leave out subsection (7)
21: Clause 10, page 11, line 35, leave out “is revoked” and insert “and the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/1764) are revoked.”
Amendments 19 to 21 agreed.
Clause 11: Super-majority requirement for certain legislation
Amendment 22 not moved.
Amendments 23 to 26
23: Clause 11, page 12, line 33, after “decided” insert “on”
24: Clause 11, page 12, line 34, after “32A(2)(b)” insert “that any provision of the Bill relates to a protected subject-matter”
25: Clause 11, page 13, line 25, after “decides” insert “on”
26: Clause 11, page 13, line 26, after “32A(2)(b)” insert “that any provision of the Bill relates to a protected subject-matter”
Amendments 23 to 26 agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
28: Clause 34, page 35, line 29, at end insert—
“90C The Crown Estate—Island Authorities
(1) The scheme under section 90B of the Scotland Act 1998 shall make provision for the Scottish Ministers to transfer to the management of each of Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (“the island authorities”) on the islands transfer date all the existing Scottish functions of the Commissioners relating to those parts of the Scottish zone surrounding each of the island authorities.
(2) The exact extent of the parts of the Scottish zone to be transferred under subsection (1) will be agreed by the Treasury and Scottish Ministers in consultation with the island authorities and in accordance with the general principles contained within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as they applied for the delineation of boundaries between States.
(3) In this section, “the islands transfer date” means a date no later than one year after the transfer date referred to in section 90B of the Scotland Act 1998.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing us to keep going. This amendment relates to the Crown Estate in relation to the islands authorities. It is an amendment that I moved in Committee, and I am very grateful for the support that it received from many parts of your Lordships’ House.
The Smith commission basically argued that the management of the Crown Estate should be devolved to, I think it said, the Scottish Parliament but, for reasons that the Government explained, that was not technically possible so it was devolved instead to Scottish Ministers. The commission also recommended that there should be onward devolution of the management of the Crown Estate to the three islands authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. The purpose of the amendment is to give some substance to that recommendation.
Since we debated this matter in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, has met representatives of the islands authorities, the chief executive and the leader of the Western Isles Council, who came on behalf of the other two islands councils; I am very grateful to him for giving us his time. A number of noble Lords also met the representatives while they were here. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who was willing to meet them and hear the very compelling case that they put.
As I said, the commission said that there should be devolution of the management of the Crown Estate to Scottish Ministers and then on to the islands authorities. What we are principally talking about here is the management of the marine estate, an estate that has substantial resources, not least in aquaculture but increasingly, as we look to the future, in the development of renewable energy. We are talking about a substantial area of activity.
Why would I seek to put this into statutory form? There is a suspicion about whether Scottish Ministers would fully deliver what the Smith commission actually proposed. It has been widely recognised that there is a considerable amount of centralisation in the present Scottish Administration. There is a concern that the Scottish Government have indicated that they intend to bring forward only a single consultation on how they might manage the Crown Estate, whereas those in the islands authorities believe, with the recommendation of the Smith commission, that by this stage they should be going further and having a separate consultation on how that particular recommendation would be taken forward. The fact that that has not happened makes them suspicious.
The islands forum, the Islands Area Ministerial Working Group, took place in Lerwick on Monday this week. It was chaired by the Minister for Transport and Islands in the Scottish Government, Derek Mackay, who was accompanied by Marco Biagi, the Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment. The communiqué that was issued after the meeting said:
“There were also positive discussions on the potential for increasing local accountability for decisions on Crown Estate assets in the three council areas, ahead of a Scottish Bill on the future management framework for Crown Estate assets in Scotland after devolution. Scottish Ministers’ current priority is to secure the devolution of management and revenue of the Crown Estate so that Scotland and its communities can benefit from the Scottish assets. Ministers have already confirmed that island and coastal councils will receive the net income from Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles after”,
devolution. That sounds fine so far as it goes, but this guaranteeing of net income—the question of course is what will constitute net income—falls short of management. Again, I think that is because the commitment from Scottish Ministers up until now has been to net income rather than to management, and again there is a concern that what would happen after devolution to the Scottish Ministers would still fall short of what the Smith commission recommended.
Those who met the representatives from the councils will know that the leader of the Western Isles Council, Angus Campbell, effectively and forcefully made the point that management really means the communities taking responsibility themselves for how these assets should be developed. There is a sense of community empowerment. He pointed out the problems that many of the islands communities are facing, particularly the Western Isles, with warnings of high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, or youth migration. The idea that they might be able to manage the assets of the Crown Estate within their communities gives them some opportunity to be able to do positive things for their communities and tackle issues such as youth migration. That is why it is important that there is the opportunity to manage the Crown Estate marine assets, not simply to receive net income from them.
We have already seen the way in which Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council, under the Orkney County Council Act and the Zetland County Council Act, have been able over the years to manage the works licence regime regarding the development of aquaculture. They have been able to undertake that very successfully—in fact, sufficiently successfully that what they have been doing for many years in planning in the marine environment has now been extended to the rest of Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, made the point when we debated this in Committee that there is an understandable concern that we are second-guessing Scottish Ministers and doing double devolution without giving them a chance to take it forward. To that I say that there is a distinction between the responsibility that currently rests with Westminster and Westminster deciding that that should go to the islands, compared to a situation where a responsibility has already been devolved and this Parliament tries to suggest how an already devolved responsibility might be exercised. Indeed, I received representations that we might take the opportunity of the Bill to impose upon Scottish Ministers an obligation of, for example, proportionality and subsidiarity when they were dealing with local authorities. That would be wrong; it would lead to trying to put a responsibility on them for subjects already devolved. This is not a devolved subject, and therefore it is not inappropriate that we should devolve.
A better argument is to look at the scheme in the amendment that we propose. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who has added his name to it. The amendment says that the scheme under Section 90B of the Scotland Act will make provision. Under proposed new subsection 90B(13), inserted by this Bill, the Treasury may make a scheme only with the agreement of Scottish Ministers. So in fact Scottish Ministers would be very much involved in making the scheme, which would lead to the onward devolution of the Crown Estate management to the islands community. Far from being cut out, they would actually be actively involved in the scheme; indeed, it would require their consent. Our amendment itself says that the actual transfer would be done by the Scottish Ministers to the islands.
In his foreword, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, talks about the,
“strong desire to see the principle of devolution extended further, with the transfer of powers from Holyrood to local communities”.
All sides of the House have previously noted that with approval. It is very easy to pay lip service to the aspiration, but this amendment seeks to give it real substance. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support much, though not all, of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, has said. My only slight worry is the issue of double devolution and whether the amendment is competent, but that is not to say that the debate is unimportant. We in the Highlands are sick of the centralisation that has been happening in Scotland—I certainly am.
To allow the management of the Crown Estate to be taken over by the northern islands councils and the Western Isles Council would be a good step forward, because migration has always been a particular problem in the northern and Western Isles.
I recently visited the Isle of Lewis and the school I used to go to as a child when my father was principal lighthouse keeper in Lewis. It has closed, as have a number of other junior and secondary schools because of falling school populations. We need to bring some wealth back into that part of the world. There are always difficulties about the yard at Arnish, which was involved and perhaps still may be in manufacturing for wind farms. There has been a fall-away in fishing, which used to be the mainstay of that island, the potential, as we have heard, aquaculture and wind energy, and the difficulties with the interconnector to the Western Isles. Therefore we need something to bring some certainty to these islands. They are so much forgotten about in Edinburgh; historically, the highlands have always been the poor relation of Edinburgh, and many highlanders like me always tended to think that we did better out of Westminster than Edinburgh.
There is now a Government in Edinburgh who have the opportunity to devolve the management of the Crown Estate to the Northern and Western Isles. I am suspicious of the Scottish National Party’s plans here—I agree with the noble and learned Lord that there is no certainty whatever that anything other than the net proceeds will be given to these islands. I hope that this debate will at least help to put pressure on those who will have the ability in the future to further devolve, as the Smith commission said.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for allowing him to put my name beneath his on this very cleverly drafted and interesting amendment. As I mentioned in Committee, I have a particular interest in and a special love for those assets that make up the Crown Estate today. I am very worried about the Crown Estate, and feel that it needs to go into hands that will look after it. I am therefore extremely attracted by this amendment, because the local councils concerned will fulfil my test of looking after things.
I was most interested in what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, had to say about net income versus management. I thought I had to find one example of why it was important to send things down to the local level and I found one by talking to a householder outside Oban. He reflected that in the area outside Oban there are a number of fish farms, one of which had gone bust—of course, they need to have an arrangement with the Crown Estate—and no moneys were available to clear up the fish farm, which then created a pollution problem which affected a number of neighbouring fish farms. These businesses are quite small, but they employ significant percentages of people in the area around Oban. The solution was of course to get hold of the Crown Estate and ask it to take some simple decisions—essentially, to pay someone to clear up the mess. It took a very long time, because no one in London quite understood the urgency of the fact that pollution was killing off the fish. The householder told me that they were jolly glad that the Crown Estate would move to be more local. It was interesting that the same householder knew exactly what was taking place—I am using “double devolution” but I do not think it is that—and that in future, if a similar thing happened, it would be possible for someone to go directly to the appropriate person, because they would know the individual within the council who would look after it and could have the matter sorted out so that it would not cause the economic damage to the community which it did.
There is also of course the extraordinary thing we have been hearing today about the holy status of the Smith commission agreement document. However, in fact of course we have two holy documents, because it turns out that the Scotland Bill itself has a holy status. There is a conflict of holiness—
—or sacredness between these two documents, and it seems that it is incumbent on the House to try to find some way to resolve that. Given the very eloquent words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and my story of the householder from outside Oban, I am sure that the correct way for the House to consider the holiness is to go with the Smith commission agreement and to make the amendment that is being proposed here. I hope that other noble Lords feel the same way that I do.
My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord MacKenzie. I also pay tribute to the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, on that over the years, and to the local knowledge—the boyhood experience—of my noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein on that.
I remember that at the time of the Scottish referendum there was an interview with a farmer from Shetland. The BBC interviewer asked him if he liked Westminster, to which the answer was, “No, I’ve not much time for Westminster”. He was then asked, “What about Edinburgh?”. He said, “Oh, we hate them. Our wrath is reserved for Edinburgh”. Therefore that makes a point on that quite eloquently, although in common language. It is no surprise that we support the principles behind these amendments and sincerely hope that the Scottish Government are listening. In fact, in the 2014 Scottish Labour Devolution Commission we were very clear that:
“Devolution is not just about powers for the Scottish Parliament. It is about the distribution of powers within Scotland to bring them closer to people”.
If I have any quibble about what has happened in Scotland, it is that we have provided devolution to Edinburgh but we ain’t done very much to disseminate that devolution outwith Edinburgh. Therefore it is time that we did this, and this is quite a timely amendment on that.
In the 1990s, when I was on the Opposition Front Bench for the Labour Party, one of my responsibilities was the Highlands and Islands. I developed a great affection for the isles and for the communities in that area. The point that was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and others, is that these communities are very fragile, and the support we need to give them is essential if we are to generate that community spirit.
In the Labour Party devolution commission that I mentioned we also made reference to local authorities, which,
“should have increased scope to influence economic development”.
When I was an MP along the Corridor I chaired a commission on the closure of the J&B bottling plant in Dumbarton, in my area. I did not want it to be exclusively local authority but wanted it to be public/private. I chaired the task force, and eventually it developed into what was called Lomondgate. Now, 15 years later, it has the BBC and Aggreko, which is a small generator company that was started in Dumbarton, but which is now a FTSE 100 company. We did that with local people and local involvement. I used to say to people in Scottish Enterprise in Glasgow that they did not understand my area even though it was 20 miles away. Therefore that need for that economic development and the need to have those powers in those hands is extremely important. Not only have I been a proponent of that but I have been a practitioner and have seen its success. Therefore with that spirit in mind I support these amendments so that we give the power to the communities and give the support to the Western Isles and others. If there is a lesson and a message here tonight, it is that the Scottish Government must deliver on their promises.
Finally, can the Minister clarify a point that was raised in Committee and which was also raised with him in writing, regarding the timescale of the transfer process of the Scottish Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament? At the time, the Minister was unable to answer when or how long he anticipated the transfer scheme would take. Perhaps he has an update for the House today. At the very least, I hope he will be able to say when the detailed discussions which he referred to in the correspondence to us are likely to commence. With that in mind, I am delighted to support the principles of these amendments and I look forward to a positive response from the Minister.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the noble Lords, Lord MacKenzie and Lord McFall, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for their contributions. Let me begin by saying that I understand and sympathise with the intention of this amendment and with the island authorities. I also commend the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Dundee, who have shown such resolute commitment to this important issue.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has said already, I had the opportunity to meet the island authorities and other stakeholders. I found it an enlightening and informative experience to talk through this issue with them. I hope that I have further opportunities to meet them, and I certainly encourage others to do so. When he and I met the representatives of the Western Isles Council recently, it was clear how much appetite they had for the management responsibilities of the Crown Estate to be devolved with as little delay as possible. However, the Smith commission agreement was absolutely clear that:
“Responsibility for the management of the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland, and the revenue generated from these assets, will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament … Following this transfer, responsibility for the management of those assets will be further devolved to local authority areas”,
such as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles or other areas that seek such responsibilities. The Smith commission chose these words with good reason. I believe that the devolution of management responsibilities will be quicker, simpler and come with fewer practical difficulties if the UK Government devolve these responsibilities in a single transfer to Scottish Ministers. A consultation can then take place in Scotland to determine the best way to further devolve these assets. I stress that the UK Government’s view is that this should be a consultation about how, not whether, the management of those assets will be further devolved to the island councils.
I note that the Scottish Government are never shy of saying how they will hold the UK Government’s feet to the fire on how they live up to the commitments under the Smith agreement. I assure noble Lords that the UK Government will take every opportunity to press Scottish government Ministers to deliver on the commitments made by the SNP as part of the Smith process. I was glad to note, and to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, repeat today, that the island councils met the Scottish Government on Monday and that some progress, although not complete progress, was made in those talks.
However, the Government do not believe it would be in keeping with the principle or spirit of devolution for the UK Government to determine how the management of the Crown Estate in Scotland should be further devolved. But I take this opportunity to assure noble Lords that the UK Government take this issue seriously. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, who has policy responsibility for the Crown Estate, will make a Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament six months after the transfer of Crown Estate assets. This statement will outline the progress that the Scottish Government have made on the onward devolution of these assets. This is a new commitment which the Government are prepared to make, having been persuaded by the arguments in this House and having met and listened to the group Our Islands Our Future and other passionate voices. I hope that this commitment gives noble Lords comfort. As I have said, we will continue to press the Scottish Government to deliver what was promised to the island communities and other communities in the Smith agreement. I have no reason to suspect that the Scottish Government will not deliver the onward devolution of these assets.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, asked about timing. Conversations between officials are ongoing, and it is envisaged that Ministers of the UK and Scottish Governments will commence further detailed discussions after the Scottish Parliament elections about the precise timing.
In conclusion, I reiterate that although I respect and understand the intention of this amendment, the Government cannot support it. I ask the noble and learned Lord to withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this relatively short debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, who speaks with personal experience and knowledge about the challenges that face many of our islands communities and about the opportunities that those communities wish to have to be masters or mistresses of their own destiny.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made an important point. Oban would certainly be outwith the immediate scope of the provision, but of course, as the Smith commission said, the measure could then go on to cover other coastal communities. He made the important point that in such circumstances, you have officials who know the individual concerned. Also, if you are a developer, you will then have to deal with only one regulatory body and will not have to get planning permission from an islands council and separate permission from the Crown Estate or the body that the Scottish Ministers set up after devolution.
I am grateful, too, for the very constructive and positive response from the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I think it was Lomondgate that he and I went to together during the referendum campaign. It was a very impressive set-up that he had had a considerable hand in developing and promoting.
I welcome the very understanding and sympathetic views of the Minister. He quoted the Smith commission quite properly, saying that following the transfer there would then be a transfer to the islands. That is precisely what our amendment says—that there would be a transfer and, following that, another transfer. However, the significant point is that he said that he would not hesitate to hold the Scottish Government’s feet to the fire, and that it was a question of how rather than whether. I fear that at the moment the Scottish Government have not taken that step. They are still talking about net revenues and not about management. Therefore, it might be helpful in holding the Scottish Government’s feet further to the fire if your Lordships were to agree to the amendment.
If the Minister was able to hold the Scottish Government’s feet to the fire and was able to tell us that they are now committed to the management and not just the transfer of assets, giving some indication of a timetable, no one would be happier than me to accept that positive outcome from the Minister’s efforts. In those circumstances, I think it would be helpful to test the opinion of the House.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 9.09 pm.