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Leaving the EU: Devolution of Powers

Volume 635: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2018

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament after the UK leaves the EU. (903398)

It would be remiss of me not to point out that tomorrow marks the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in wishing well not only to those who are organising and participating in events around the world but to everybody who celebrates the life and legacy of Scotland’s great bard.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we are intensifying our discussions with the devolved Administrations on powers returning from the EU. I had a useful discussion with Mike Russell early in the new year, and I am confident that discussions will continue to be productive.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) said during the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill:

“I will not support a Bill that undermines devolution and does not respect the integrity of the Union.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2017; Vol. 632, c. 733.]

If that is the position of the Scottish Conservatives, why did they vote against the Labour amendment that would have safeguarded devolution?

It is quite easy, in opposition, to pursue stunts and gimmicks, and that is what the Labour amendment was. This Government have made it quite clear that we would agree an amendment to the Bill with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, and that is what we are doing.

Figures published today show that trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is four times more important to Scotland than its trade with the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that, as powers return from the EU to Scotland, we must ensure that we protect the UK internal market so that businesses in Scotland may continue to flourish?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I would point out that those figures were produced by the Scottish Government themselves. Trade within the UK is worth four times as much to Scotland as its trade with the EU. When “Scotland’s place in Europe” was published last week, it disappointed me that that fact was not recognised.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he thinks is wrong with the devolution powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and how he would like to see them fixed? Or is it that, in this week of Burns celebrations, he is just the great puddin’ o’ the chieftain race?

The hon. Gentleman always has an interesting take on events, but I am clear that we want to work with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, and with the Scottish Parliament, whose Finance and Constitution Committee has set out its views on clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill. I want to reach agreement with them, so that the Government will recommend a legislative consent motion.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit presents an enormous opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to gain even further powers?

It represents not only that opportunity but an opportunity to use those powers. We never hear the Scottish National party talking about how the powers devolved to Scotland after we leave the EU will actually be used. That is the debate we should be having now.

First, on behalf of the lassies, may I echo the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State and wish everyone in the House a happy Burns day? In December, I stood at this Dispatch Box and was comforted to hear the Secretary of State commit to bringing forward amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Report. Sadly, he did not keep that commitment. Will he now please tell us why?

The answer is very simple: we could not meet the timescale that we had aspired to. I take responsibility for that. I gave a commitment at the Dispatch Box that we would bring forward amendments on Report, but we were unable to reach agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government on those important amendments within the timescale. Significant work is ongoing in that regard, and the commitment to amend the Bill is unchanged. However, it will involve an amendment that can command the support of the Scottish Parliament, not a gimmick amendment.

That lack of planning is extremely disappointing, because the Secretary of State, in failing to keep his commitment, has now singlehandedly put the future of the devolution settlement in the hands of the other place. Given his lack of judgment in his previous commitment, how confident is the Secretary of State that an amendment will come back to this place that all parties will find acceptable?

The hon. Lady is relatively new to this House, but she will know that this Chamber will be able to discuss the amendment, which will be discussed by the Scottish Parliament when we seek its legislative consent. The Scottish Labour party has been all over the place on the EU, and I have no idea how it will vote on a legislative consent motion when it comes to the Scottish Parliament, but I hope that it will be yes.

2. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903399)

5. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903402)

6. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903403)

9. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903406)

10. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903407)

13. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903410)

14. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903411)

15. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. (903412)

And yet the Secretary of State cannot name one. He failed in his promise to amend clause 11 in this House to avoid undermining the principle of devolution to Scotland and Wales, as not just Scotland’s governing party, but all Scottish MPs will be excluded from the next stage of the debate. Will he tell us now what proposals will be brought forward in the Lords?

I echo the remarks that Michael Russell made yesterday in Holyrood, where he said:

“The Scottish Government… aims to agree amendments to the bill with the UK Government that would allow a legislative consent motion to be brought to the chamber and passed.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 23 January 2018; c. 31.]

Mr Russell and, indeed, Mark Drakeford in the Welsh Assembly have not given a running commentary on the negotiations, and I do not intend to do so either.

Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee has stated that clause 11, as currently drafted, is incompatible with the devolution settlement in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree?

I have committed to amending the Bill—my commitment remains exactly the same—so that it meets the concerns of the Committee set out in its report and so that a majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament can vote for a legislative consent motion in respect of the Bill.

The Secretary of State was left looking a bit glaikit this morning when the Brexit Secretary said that the Secretary of State had potentially made a promise that he could not keep. Is not the reality here that all the talk from the Tories about giving power back to Scotland is nothing less than a power grab and that that lot—the Scottish Conservatives—are just Lobby fodder?

The pantomime season is over, and the hon. Gentleman’s theatrical tone strikes a discordant note with the tone set yesterday by Michael Russell, the Minister in the Scottish Government responsible for such matters. There was no suggestion of a power grab. The suggestion was that both Governments are engaged in intensive negotiations to agree an amendment to the clause.

I appreciate the Secretary of State’s honesty in saying that he ran out of time to get the amendments in, but unfortunately that is not good enough. How can he justify it being okay that Michelle Mone and Alan Sugar will have more of an impact on the Bill than Scotland’s elected Members, some of which sit on the Secretary of State’s side of the House?

From everything that I see and read in Scotland, the hon. Lady has a considerable impact on events in Scotland, and I am sure that her views on the Bill will be well recorded. The amendment will be debated in the House of Lords. I regret that it is being brought forward in the other House, but we simply did not meet the timescale to which we aspired. There will be a further opportunity to debate the amendment in this House, and the Scottish Parliament, which SNP Members say they are concerned about all the time, will also be able to have an extensive debate and vote on the clause.

Will the Secretary of State’s colleagues in the House of Lords make the changes he promised us he would make to the Brexit Bill? And will he sit down with the Scottish Government thereafter to discuss what further powers need to be devolved?

I intend to sit down with the Scottish Government next week to discuss progress on amending clause 11. In relation to further devolution, the Smith Commission determined the nature of the settlement, to which all parties in the Scottish Parliament signed up. This Government do not support changes to the devolution arrangements, as agreed in the Smith Commission.

The Secretary of State has failed to answer for his broken promise to this House and to his Tory colleagues in Scotland on clause 11. That means Karren Brady, Sebastian Coe, Joan Bakewell and 26 Church of England bishops now have more say over Scotland’s future than Scotland’s elected MPs. Will the Secretary of State finally apologise for that sad state of affairs?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s views and mine on the future of the House of Lords are closer than he would anticipate. I have taken full responsibility for not meeting the timescale I originally set out. We are committed to amending the Bill, and to amending the Bill in agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. I would have thought that that is something even Opposition Members would recognise.

In a rare lucid moment, the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) said

“the Government made a clear commitment to the House on the amendments to clause 11, and I took those commitments at face value. As a Conservative Member, I never want to get to the point where I cannot take commitments given to me…at face value”,

and that

“they have let this Chamber down by not delivering on what they promised.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 819-21.]

Will the Secretary of State apologise to his own colleagues, to this House and, more importantly, to the people of Scotland for letting us all down?

I think the hon. Gentleman seeks to conflate two issues. The commitment to amend the Bill remains unchanged. The Bill will be amended in agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. We failed to meet the timescale to which I aspired, and I take full responsibility for that.

Resistance to further devolution of powers comes from many quarters, such as the Constitutional Research Council led by the Secretary of State’s friend, and prominent Scottish Tory, Richard Cook. As we all know, the CRC funded the Democratic Unionist party’s version of hard Brexit in the campaign. Does the Secretary of State now agree that it is time for full disclosure of those funds? If he does not, it undermines the very principles of liberal democracy that he says he stands up for.

That is an entirely separate issue. As you will recognise, Mr Speaker, a whole range of procedures are in place for people who have issues or concerns about the funding of political activity.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the flag of this nation will remain the Union flag and that no devolved Assembly should try to restrict it from being flown, whether at the white cliffs of Dover, Land’s End or John o’Groats?

As my hon. Friend knows, in September 2014 the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the United Kingdom, and the Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom. It beggars belief that, at a time when children’s hospital wards are being closed, educational standards are falling and Police Scotland is in chaos, the priority of the First Minister of Scotland is flags.

The Secretary of State talks a good game but, unfortunately, delivery does not appear to be his strong point. Speaking of auld acquaintance, it turns out that his key adviser tasked with increasing awareness of devolution across Government is none other than the interim chief executive of Carillion. Given the shambolic handling of clause 11 last week, how does the Secretary of State think that is going?

First, it is not correct to suggest that non-executive directors take policy decisions in relation to Government Departments. Keith Cochrane has done an excellent job as a non-executive director of the Scotland Office, and I pay tribute to him as one of Scotland’s most respected businessmen. However, in order not to become a distraction at a time of very important work for the Scotland Office, he has decided to step aside from his responsibilities until the investigation into Carillion and any subsequent inquiries are complete.

May I also wish you a very happy Burns season, Mr Speaker?

The Secretary of State talked of a powers bonanza and could not list one new power. He promised amendments on clause 11 and no such amendments were tabled. Can we now believe another word he says in this House?

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not necessarily have the best of relations with some people in the Scottish Government, but perhaps he could have a word with them about the publication of the frameworks. I am keen that we publish what has been agreed in relation to frameworks, but the current position of the Scottish Government is that that should not be published.

The right hon. Gentleman is personally responsible for a breakdown in the relationship between this House and the Scottish Government, and the breakdown in relationships between all the Members of this House. The Brexit Secretary today has suggested that the right hon. Gentleman is the blockage to progress. He has accepted full responsibility for not producing these amendments. Has he now had the time to think about his own position?

Again, the hon. Gentleman strikes a completely different tone from Michael Russell, who has pursued a very professional approach to these matters. They are complicated and difficult matters, and it is important that they are thoroughly debated, discussed and agreed. The reason the Government did not bring forward an amendment at that stage was that no amendment had been agreed with the Scottish Government, but we are committed to delivering that.