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63A Permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government
(1) The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.
(2) The purpose of this section is, with due regard to the other provisions of this Act, to signify the commitment of the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.
(3) 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.””
This amendment inserts a new clause into the Scotland Act 1998 and replaces Clause 1. It states that the Scottish Parliament and Government are permanent parts of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements, and that those institutions are not to be abolished except on the basis of a decision of the people of Scotland in a referendum.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 13—Functions exercisable within devolved competence: elections.
New clause 1—Independent Commission on Full Fiscal Autonomy
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a commission of between four and eleven members to conduct an analysis of the impact of Full Fiscal Autonomy on the Scottish economy, labour market and public finances and to report by
(3) No employee of the Scottish Government or of any government Department or agency anywhere in the United Kingdom may be a member of the commission.
(4) The Secretary of State shall, in consultation and with the agreement of Scottish Ministers, appoint as members of the commission only persons who appear to the Secretary of State to hold a relevant qualification or to have relevant experience.
(5) The Secretary of State shall not appoint as a member of the commission any person who is a member of a political party.
(6) Before appointing any member of the commission, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) The Chair of any select committee appointed by the House of Commons to consider Scottish Affairs, and
(b) The Chair of any select committee appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of Her Majesty’s Treasury and its associated public bodies.
(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations issue the commission with terms of reference and guidelines for the commission’s working methods, including an outline definition of the policy of full fiscal autonomy for the commission to analyse.
(8) The Secretary of State must lay copies of the report of the commission before both Houses of Parliament, and must transmit a copy of the report of the commission to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.
(9) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument, subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
The new Clause provides for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the impact of FFA.
New clause 4—Review of operation of Gift Aid in Scotland
The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons a review of the operation of Gift Aid in Scotland within a year of Part 2 of this Act coming into force.”
This self-explanatory New Clause would require a review of the operation of Gift Aid in Scotland.
New clause 6—Local Discretionary Taxation
Individual local authorities in Scotland shall have the discretion to raise additional income by levying a tax, in addition to Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates, on either residents, occupiers, property owners or visitors in the local authority or within a discrete area of the local authority providing local people consent.”
The power will enable local authorities to introduce tax(es) without the need to seek approval from Scottish Government, with the rates and reliefs being determined locally and the local authority being both granted powers to ensure that those on which the tax is levied have a legal obligation to pay and the local authority having the discretion to determine how the additional revenue is expended.
New clause 7—Local authority’s power of general competence
‘(1) A local authority has power to do anything that individuals generally may do.
(2) Subsection (1) applies to things that an individual may do even though they are in nature, extent or otherwise—
(a) unlike anything the authority may do apart from subsection (1), or
(b) unlike anything that other public bodies may do.
(3) In this section “individual” means an individual with full capacity.
(4) Where subsection (1) confers power on the authority to do something, it confers power to do it in any way whatever, including—
(a) power to do it anywhere in the United Kingdom or elsewhere,
(b) power to do it for a commercial purpose or otherwise for a charge, or without charge, and
(c) power to do it for, or otherwise than for, the benefit of the authority, its area or persons resident or present in its area.
(5) The generality of the power conferred by subsection (1) (“the general power”) is not limited by the existence of any other power of the authority which (to any extent) overlaps the general power.
(6) Any such other power is not limited by the existence of the general power.”
This new Clause seeks to introduce a general power of competence for Scottish local authorities, putting it beyond doubt that they may do anything that is not expressly prohibited by law. It seeks to go further than the power of wellbeing already afforded to Scottish local authorities. The proposals seek to give councils the capacity to do anything that an individual can do. Therefore, this would not enable a local authority to introduce a tax or wage war, but it would ensure that local government has the ability to use the power of general competence in the most sensible and constructive way for the benefit of the people and communities whom they serve.
New clause 8—Competences of local government in Scotland
(2) After the list has been published, the First Minister may not publish any amended list of competences of local government in Scotland without first obtaining approval of the revised list consent from—
(a) the Scottish Parliament, with two-thirds of its membership voting in favour of the amended list, and
(b) the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.”
This new clause entrenches the independence of local government in Scotland from interference by national government in Scotland.
New clause 9—Subsidiarity
New clause 11—Scottish block grant
The Secretary of State must lay before the House of Commons before the end of the first month of each financial year a full record, including minutes of meetings and correspondence at Ministerial level, of discussions between the Secretary of State, the Treasury and Scottish Ministers relating to the non-budget expenditure to be voted by Parliament authorising the payment of grants to the Scottish Consolidated Fund for that financial year.”
The purpose of this new clause is to ensure transparency and accountability of the process leading to the annual settlement between the Treasury and Scottish Ministers of the block grant to the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
New clause 35—Consent of the Scottish Parliament to certain Westminster Acts
“(8) But the Parliament of the United Kingdom must not pass Acts applying to Scotland that make 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), “Acts” includes any Act, whether a public general Act, a local and personal Act or a private Act.”
(2) After section 28 of the Scotland Act 1998 insert—
“28A Duty to consult the Scottish Government on Bills applying to Scotland
(1) A Minister of the Crown shall consult Scottish Ministers before introducing any Bill into the Parliament of the United Kingdom for an Act of that Parliament that would make provision applying to Scotland.
(2) Where the Bill is for an Act making provision that would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament by virtue of section 28(8), the requirement to consult under subsection (1) includes a requirement that a Minister of the Crown give the Scottish Ministers a copy of the provisions of the Bill that apply to Scotland no later than—
(a) 21 days before the proposed date of introduction, or
(b) such later date as the Scottish Ministers may agree.”
(3) The requirement in subsection (2) does not apply if—
(a) the Scottish Ministers so agree, or
(b) there are exceptional circumstances justifying failure to comply with the requirement.
(4) The reference in subsection (1) to an Act of Parliament is a reference to any Act whether a public general Act, a local and personal Act or a private Act.”
This new clause would ensure that the UK Parliament can only legislate in devolved areas with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. It puts the Sewel Convention onto a statutory footing, as agreed by the Smith Commission.
New clause 36—Scottish independence referendum
(2) In sub-paragraph (1), leave out “if the following requirements are met”.
(3) Leave out sub-paragraphs (2) to (4).”
This New Cause would permit the Scottish Parliament to decide whether and when to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
Government amendment 34, page 1, line 4, leave out Clause 1.
This amendment leaves out Clause 1, which is replaced by New Clause 12.
Amendment 195, page 1, Clause 1, leave out lines 7 and 8 and insert—
‘(1A) The Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution.
(1B) Subsection (1) or (1A) may be repealed only if—
(a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and
(b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it.”
This amendment is to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can only be abolished with the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people after a referendum.
Amendment 5, page 1, line 7, leave out “recognised as”
Amendment 196, page 1, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert—
‘(1A) The Scottish Government is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution.
(1B) Subsection (1) or (1A) may be repealed only if—
(a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and
(b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it.”
This amendment is to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can only be abolished with the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people after a referendum.
Amendment 6, page 1, line 12, leave out “recognised as”
Amendment 197, page 2, line 1, leave out Clause 2
This amendment signals intent to oppose ‘Clause stand part’ with respect to Clause 2 and to move New Clause (Consent of the Scottish Parliament to certain Westminster Acts) to take its place.
Amendment 7, page 2, line 6, Clause 2, leave out “normally”
Amendment 8, page 2, line 6, after “legislate”, insert “(a)”
Amendment 9, page 2, line 6, after “matters”, insert “and
(b) to alter the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of the Scottish Government”
Amendment 198, page 2, line 7, Clause 3, leave out “Section B3 of”
Government amendments 35 to 46
Amendment 199, page 11, line 18, Clause 10, leave out “the decision whether to pass or reject it” and insert “the motion that the Bill be passed is debated”
Amendments 199 to 203 to Clause 10 aim to clarify matters around references to the Supreme Court, in particular where the Scottish Parliament resolve to reconsider the Bill.
Government amendment 47
Amendment 10, page 11, line 28, at end insert—
“() the period between general elections specified in section 2(2)”
Government amendment 48
Amendment 200, page 11, line 38, after “unless”, insert “it is passed without division, or”
Government amendments 49 to 53
Amendment 201, page 12, line 16, at end insert—
‘(2A) He shall not make a reference by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (2) if the Parliament resolves that it wishes to reconsider the Bill.
(2B) He shall not make a reference by virtue of paragraph (b) of subsection (2) if—
(a) the Bill was passed without a division, or
(b) the Bill was passed on a division and the number of members voting in favour of it was at least two thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament.”
This amendment establishes that a Bill passed by consensus in the Scottish Parliament (i.e. without a division) automatically meets the super-majority requirement and ensures that a Presiding Officer’s statement is not required if the super-majority requirements are not triggered.
Government amendments 54 to 57
Amendment 202, page 12, line 23, at end insert—
‘(3A) Subsection (3B) applies where—
(a) a reference has been made in relation to a Bill under this section, and
(b) the reference has not been decided or otherwise disposed of.
(3B) If the Parliament resolves that it wishes to reconsider the Bill—
(b) the person who made the reference in relation to the Bill shall request the withdrawal of the reference.”
Amendment 203, page 12, line 25, leave out subsections (11) and (12) and insert—
‘(10A) In subsection (4) after paragraph (a) insert—
(aa) where section 32A(2)(b) applies—
(i) the Supreme Court decides that the Bill or any provision of the Bill relates to a protected subject matter, or
(ii) a reference has been made in relation to the Bill under section 32A and the Parliament subsequently resolves that it wishes to reconsider the Bill.”
(10B) After that subsection insert—
“(4A) Standing orders shall provide for an opportunity for the reconsideration of a Bill after its rejection if (and only if), where section 32A(2)(a) applies—
(a) the Supreme Court decides that the Bill or any provision of the Bill does not relate to a protected subject matter, or
(b) the Parliament resolves that it wishes to reconsider the Bill””
Government amendments 58 to 60
Amendment 204, page 13, line 2, Clause 11, at end insert—
This amendment would remove the Human Rights Act 1998 from the list of protected provisions in Schedule 4 of the Scotland Act 1998.
Government amendment 61
Amendment 205, page 13, line 8, paragraph (a)(ii), leave out “(3)” and insert “(2B)”
Amendments 205 to 223 to Clause 11 would grant the Scottish Parliament powers to make decisions about all matters relating to the arrangements and operations of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government as agreed in the Smith Commission.
Amendment 206, page 13, line 9, paragraph (a)(iii), leave out “11” and insert “12”
Amendment 207, page 13, line 10, paragraph (a)(iv), leave out “section” to the end and insert “sections 13 to 27,”
Amendment 208, page 13, line 11, paragraph (a)(v), leave out from “(v)” to the end and insert “section 28(1) to (6),”
Amendment 209, page 13, line 13, paragraph (a)(vii), leave out “27(1) and (2)” and insert “31”
Amendment 210, page 13, line 14, paragraph (a)(viii), leave out “28(5)” and insert “32(1) to (3),”
Government amendments 62 and 63
Amendment 211, page 13, line 15, paragraph (a)(ix), leave out “(1)(a) and (b) and (2) and (3)”
Government amendment 64
Amendment 212, page 13, line 19, paragraph (b)(i), leave out “44(1B)(a) and (b), and (2)” and insert “44(1C), (2) and (4),”
Government amendment 65
Amendment 213, page 13, line 20, paragraph (b)(ii), leave out “(3) to (7)” and insert “to 50”
Amendment 214, page 13, line 21, paragraph (b)(iii), leave out “46(1) to (3)” and insert “51(1), (2) and (4)”
Government amendment 66
Amendment 215, page 13, line 22, paragraph (b)(iv), leave out “47(3)(b) to (e)” and insert “52”
Amendment 216, page 13, line 23, paragraph (b)(v), leave out “48(2) to (4)” and insert “59”
Amendment 217, page 13, line 24, paragraph (b)(vi), leave out “49(2) and (4)(b) to (e)” and insert “61”
Government amendment 67
Amendment 218, page 13, line 25, leave out paragraph (b)(vii)
Government amendment 68
Amendment 219, page 13, line 26, paragraph (c), leave out “(3)”
Amendment 220, page 13, line 27, paragraph (d), leave out from “general” to the end of the paragraph, and insert “sections 81 to 85,) sections 91 to 95, and section 97,”
Government amendment 69
Amendment 221, page 13, line 29, paragraph (e), leave out from “supplementary” to end of line 38, and insert—
(i) sections 112, 113 and 115, and Schedule 7 (insofar as those sections and that Schedule apply to any power in this Act of the Scottish Ministers to make subordinate legislation),
(ii) sections 118, 120 and 121,
(iii) section 124 (insofar as that section applies to any power in this Act of the Scottish Ministers to make subordinate legislation),
(iv) section 126(1) and (6) to (8), and
(v) section 127,”
Amendment 222, page 13, line 40, paragraph (g), leave out “6” and insert “7”
Amendment 223, page 13, line 42, paragraph (h), leave out “paragraphs 1 to 6 of”
Amendment 224, page 13, line 43, at end insert—
‘(2A) In paragraph 4 of Part I (The protected provisions, This Act) of Schedule 4 (protection of Scotland Act 1988 from modification), insert new sub-paragraph—
(5A) This paragraph does not apply to amendments to Schedule 5, Part II, Head A, Section 1A insofar as they relate to—
(a) taxes and excise in Scotland,
(b) government borrowing and lending in Scotland, and
(c) control over public expenditure in Scotland.””
This amendment would enable the Scottish Parliament to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to remove the reservation on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure in Scotland, with the effect that the Scottish Parliament could then legislate in these areas to provide for full fiscal autonomy in Scotland.
Amendment 27, page 18, line 21, Clause 15, leave out “the amount described in subsection (3)” and insert ‘the whole amount’
The purpose of this amendment is to allow a sum equivalent to all of the revenue raised by the standard rate of VAT in Scotland to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
Amendment 28, page 18, line 26, leave out “the amount described in subsection (4)” and insert ‘the whole amount’
The purpose of this amendment is to allow a sum equivalent to all of the revenue raised by the standard rate of VAT in Scotland to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
Amendment 29, page 18, leave out lines 28 to 39
The purpose of this and the linked amendments to Clause 15 is to allow a sum equivalent to all of the revenue raised by both standard and reduced rates of VAT in Scotland to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
Amendment 30, page 18, line 33, at end insert “Provided that the amount payable is not less than half of the agreed standard rate amount.”
This amendment would ensure that the share of the revenue raised by the standard rate of VAT in Scotland to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund never falls below half the of the revenue raised, even if the standard rate of VAT is cut in the future.
Amendment 31, page 18, line 39, at end insert “Provided that the amount payable is not less than half of the agreed reduced rate amount.”
This amendment would ensure that the share of the revenue raised by the reduced rate of VAT in Scotland to be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund never falls below half the of the revenue raised, even if the reduced rate of VAT is cut in the future.
Government amendments 81 and 130 to 132
This is a significant day for Scotland, as we move the public debate about our country’s future from questions of constitutional process and on to the real business of using power to improve people’s lives.
The Government’s amendments, which I would like to outline today, will strengthen the Bill’s provisions and clarify the delivery of the Smith commission agreement. With that done, it will be time for Scotland’s political parties to work together to make the new powers a success for everyone in Scotland. My ministerial colleagues, UK Government officials and I have engaged widely with interested parties and civic Scotland to help people to understand the Bill and to listen to their views. We have discussed the clauses with the Scottish Government and Committees of both the Scottish Parliament and this Parliament, and we have reflected on constructive suggestions of how to improve the drafting of the provisions. A number of technical amendments are proposed to ensure that the Bill devolves the powers intended effectively and efficiently, as well as a range of substantive amendments which prove beyond doubt that the Bill fully delivers the Smith commission agreement. I would like to move a number of Government amendments to part 1 of the Bill. We will discuss important amendments on welfare and other parts of the Bill later today.
Building on discussions on the permanence of the Scottish Parliament in Committee, I am bringing forward new clause 12 and amendment 34. The new clause removes the words “recognised as” and makes it clear beyond question that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are permanent institutions, and that it would take a vote by the people of Scotland in a referendum to ever abolish them. The amendment puts it beyond doubt that, as the Prime Minister has said,
“Scottish devolution is woven into the very fabric of our United Kingdom.”
New Clause 13 is a technical provision ensuring that, where legislative competence is being transferred to the Scottish Parliament in relation to elections, executive functions are transferred to the Scottish Ministers in relation to that area. This will minimise the need for the Scottish Parliament to make separate textual changes to legislation after commencement of the Bill. Amendments 81 and 130 to 132 are consequential amendments to new clause 13.
Amendments 35 and 61 would devolve to the Scottish Parliament the subject matter of new subsection (2B) of section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998, inserted by clause 5 of the Bill. New subsection (2B) enables Scottish Ministers to make an order specifying an alternative date for a Scottish parliamentary general election, where otherwise the date would fall on the same day as an ordinary general election or a general election to the European Parliament.
Government amendments 36 and 44 to 45 clarify what is meant by “combined elections”. Amendment 36 makes it clear that the reservation of the rules governing campaign expenditure by political parties applies where there are overlapping regulated periods, even if the actual polls take place on different days. Amendments 44 to 46 ensure consistency of language throughout the Bill by amending other provisions in clause 7 concerned with expenditure in connection with elections.
Amendment 131 inserts a reference to clause 3 and has the effect of applying schedule 3 to the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to any functions that are exercisable within devolved competence by virtue of that clause. The new wording included in amendment 37 makes it clear that the Scottish Parliament will be able to give the Electoral Commission powers as well as duties when reporting on the delivery of its functions in relation to elections to the Scottish Parliament.
Minor amendments 38 and 39 ensure that the Scottish Ministers’ powers to make provision on the conduct of Scottish parliamentary elections are in line with the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in this area. Amendment 40 is a minor change to align the subordinate legislation-making powers of the Scottish Ministers with the extent of the reservation of the individual electoral registration digital service, which is the Great Britain-wide service used to process online applications and to verify information supplied in applications. It is used to process applications to the registers used for all GB elections, as well as EU parliamentary elections.
Amendments 41 and 42 ensure that the power in clause 5 to specify a new date for an ordinary Scottish parliamentary election works effectively with the Presiding Officer’s existing power to propose to move the date of such a poll. Amendment 43 has the same purpose as the section of the clause it replaces—to enable the Scottish Ministers to exercise, concurrently with the Secretary of State, certain subordinate legislation-making functions relating to the digital service, which otherwise remains reserved. The effect of this is to allow Scottish Ministers to exercise functions and make regulations about the digital service.
Amendments 47 to 60 seek to clarify the rules on super-majority. A number of these are technical and consequential, but I will draw the attention of the House to the three main amendments in this group. Amendment 47 requires that the Presiding Officer must decide whether any provision of a Bill relates to a protected subject matter, rather than assessing the provisions of the Bill more generally. Amendment 50 has the effect that a Bill passed with a simple majority in respect of which the Supreme Court subsequently decides that a simple majority is sufficient must be reconsidered by the Scottish Parliament before being submitted for Royal Assent. It is important that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to reconsider the Bill in this scenario as circumstances may have changed since the Bill was first passed.
Amendment 60, partly consequential on a number of other amendments, means that requirements regarding the final stage for a Bill, and for approval of a Bill following reconsideration to be treated as the passing of the Bill, apply regardless of the ground for reconsideration.
Government amendments 62 to 69 deliver new powers to the Scottish Parliament in relation to the arrangements and operation of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, in response to amendments made in Committee and discussions with the Scottish Government. They include powers in relation to the dating of Royal Assent, the form and nature of certain statements by the Presiding Officer, letters patent, appointments to the Scottish Government, the Auditor General for Scotland and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland. These amendments extend the far-reaching powers in the arrangements and operation of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government already provided for by clause 11 and address a number of amendments tabled in Committee and by the SNP today.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Trade Union Bill is still under discussion in this House, and it is the Bill as finalised by this House and the other place that will determine the nature of any legislative consent motion that is required, as is the normal practice.
The amendments I have tabled today fulfil my commitment to reflect on the debate in Committee. It is a bit rich to be criticised both for taking no amendments and, in the same breath, for tabling too many. We took the Committee process seriously and the contribution from the devolved powers committee in the Scottish Parliament very seriously, and that has determined our thinking in lodging these amendments. We will now hear the case for other, non-Government amendments, but the House will not be surprised to hear that the Government still consider that full fiscal autonomy is not in the interests of the people of Scotland. I believe that Scotland’s parties, rather than rerunning the referendum, need to work together to understand how the powers in the Bill will be used for the benefit of the people of Scotland. The UK Government are honouring their commitment in the Edinburgh agreement, accepting the result of the referendum and moving forward to give the Scottish Parliament significant new powers within our United Kingdom.
It is very nice once again to be talking about Scottish—[Interruption.] I give way to the Clerk. That is the first time I have been heckled from the Clerk’s Table, but I am sure it will not be the last.
There is one thing that concerns me. Much as I welcome the devolution to Scotland that the Scottish people have achieved—owing to the hard work of people such as Donald Dewar, the Scottish constitutional convention, even the Scotland Act 2012 and now this Bill—there are those of us who represent constituencies in England who envy that and would kill for 1% of the effective devolution that has gone to Scotland. I congratulate the Scottish people on their efforts and where they have got to, but I hope we will come very soon to how England can learn some of the lessons of Scottish devolution, because it has taught many of us many lessons. I will perhaps touch on some of the devolution packages now appearing in England, which look puny and weak compared with the proper devolution that has now taken root, quite rightly, in Scotland.
My anxiety is about centralisation. It is not devolution if the powers merely go to the next stage. If they go from Whitehall to Holyrood and stay there—and, some would argue, are perhaps not used as sufficiently as they could be—
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will make my case and happily give way later.
If the powers stay at Holyrood and do not filter down to lower tiers—perhaps local government in Scotland—and, most importantly, to the Scottish people in their communities and neighbourhoods, that is not sufficient devolution. Exchanging centralisation from Whitehall and Westminster to Holyrood is not the bargain that many of us thought we had when it came to devolution in Scotland.
If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention to events in Scotland, he would recognise that the Scottish Government have brought forward proposals for further devolution to our island communities. When the Scottish Government came to power, one of the first things we did was to remove the vast amount of ring-fencing that constrained local authorities, so it is the previous Labour Administration who are guilty of centralisation, not the Scottish Government that we have today.
It is always good to hear of examples of further devolution. I say more power to those who want to “double devolve”—and the more that happens, the more those in the other nations of the Union will learn from such examples. I gently warn the hon. Gentleman, however, that it is no good always going back to times before his party controlled and ran the Scottish Parliament with powers that are unheard of in the rest of the Union—and that should be spread to the rest of the Union. There has to be a point where people are clearly using those powers rather than complaining about what they would like to have, do not use or think they ought to have. It is a really important lesson for all of us who believe in devolution that we need to push these things further. In that case, why have my good friends in the Scottish National party not supported or proposed amendments to make sure that local government—in this case, in Scotland—can go further and run much more of its own affairs?
As always, the hon. Gentleman makes a coherent argument about constitutional matters on which he possesses great expertise. Does he agree that this is often a two-stage process? The first stage is devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament, after which it is then for the Scottish Parliament further to devolve the powers, to the islands and other communities, as indeed it has done?
It is important to see devolution develop in stages. I mentioned earlier that we have made a start on the devolution proposals for England and that another couple of Bills might be necessary, even in this Parliament, before we can really see what devolution in England looks like. However, there must be a point at which the powers already devolved—in this case to the Scottish Parliament—can be pushed beyond and down to people on the ground. That is why I proposed—I did not hear a great deal of support for it—to ensure that local government in Scotland can, with the local people’s consent, raise its own taxation. If people are won over and convinced of the need, it should be possible to raise levels of a particular tax in an area. I often mention my local circumstances in Nottingham, where we would like to levy a tourist tax or a bed tax in order to do good works, providing that people in the local area consent and agree.
Does the hon. Gentleman not see that the whole point of devolution is to ensure that those decisions are made by the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, which is already carrying through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015? It is not for this place to tell the Scottish Parliament what to do with the power that is devolved—otherwise, the power is not really devolved.
I cannot speak for this place; I can give only my personal opinion. The hon. Lady has heard me say how important it is that powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and as a devolver and a democratic, I would like to see powers devolved out of Whitehall to local areas in England, for example, and on to the ground— even, in my own case, going beyond the Nottingham city council, good though it is, right down to the localities. It is not a case of someone telling someone else to do this. If we believe in devolution—and I understand why the nationalists may feel that they do not want devolution, because it undermines the nationalist ethic—[Interruption.] That is a perfectly valid position to hold, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but nationalism is not localism.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way in a second.
If we believe in localism, or in subsidiarity—a word that I used in one of my new clauses—and pushing power to the lowest possible levels, we cannot stop with nationalism, or the nation state. There must be a whole panoply: there must be a whole view of how power can go to the people rather than merely to another elected set of people in the Scottish Parliament, which, believe it or not, may well seem as remote to some people as the federal Parliament here.
In Scotland less than 2% of the money provided for local authorities is ring-fenced, while in England the figure is nearly 10%. We should not be having a discussion about Scotland being more centralised than England, because that is clearly not the case. Will the hon. Gentleman please talk about the Scotland Bill rather than about devolution to England?
I understand why it is sensitive when I talk about issues that colleagues in the Scottish National party would rather not talk about, but I am going to talk about them. [Interruption.]
Several hon. Members rose—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have five hours in which to debate critical and significant amendments to the Scotland Bill, and the hon. Gentleman has been going on about devolution for England. He has not even tabled any amendments on this particular issue. When can we get back to debating the Scotland Bill and the important amendments that have been tabled to it?
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and I take it very seriously. I have been listening carefully to Mr Allen. He is addressing points that are relevant to the precise matters before us and to the amendments and new clauses, in a general way, but I am sure he will accept the feeling of the House that, while it is interesting and generally relevant to discuss these issues in general and as a matter of academic interest, it is also important for the House to have enough time to debate the many amendments and new clauses that are before us. I am not stopping the hon. Gentleman, but I am trusting him to know when he will draw his remarks to a conclusion.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps Pete Wishart is a little anxious because he is now part of the establishment in this place, and is used to having the privilege of unlimited time in which to address the House. Many of us do not have that privilege, and we are very jealous of the hon. Gentleman when he gets up to speak at length. However, I am rather surprised that he stopped me from answering the question asked by his hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman, which I was in the middle of doing. I am also rather surprised that he had not read the amendment paper, which includes four new clauses in my name. Perhaps if he looked at those rather than repeating the speeches that he made during the previous three days of debate, he would be better informed.
I shall now be very careful to stick closely to the subject of my new clauses, which will obviously be in order. The ability to raise money locally is very important for all our localities, and is a symptom of being freed to a greater extent from Whitehall and Westminster, so that this place and Whitehall do what they should do and our respective nations can govern themselves as much as is absolutely appropriate, which they do not currently do. Scotland is leading the way in showing us how to do that, but I hope that this is not just about Scotland, and that, even for the Scottish nationalists, it is about ensuring that all of us share the benefits of devolution while we remain together in the Union, as I hope we will.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has just said that this is not just about Scotland. I have to put it to him that this is the Scotland Bill. Can we please discuss Scotland?
I know it is difficult to accept, when one listens to one’s own propaganda that these matters are only ever about the Scottish National party, but the truth is that the Scotland Bill clearly impacts on the rest of the Union. Those of us who will benefit or suffer from matters related to Scotland have a right to express a view. If there was a slightly more outgoing sharing of learning and experience from some colleagues from the SNP, more friends would be won among those of us who very strongly believe in devolution in the other nations of the UK.
I just wonder whether the hon. Gentleman sees the irony in the fact that we voted through English votes for English laws but have created second-class MPs in those of us who come from Scotland, because we cannot fully represent our constituents in this place. Scotland returned 56 SNP MPs with a clear mandate to deliver home rule for Scotland, and we are not getting what the Scottish people want because MPs from other parts of the UK are voting against our interests. We should have Scottish votes for Scottish laws in this place.
The hon. Gentleman asks from a sedentary position how we got on: 50% of Scottish people voted against the SNP and unfortunately 50% of Scotland is represented by three Members of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman should relish his victory, and he thoroughly deserves all the appropriate accolades, but I ask him to be a little careful not to become triumphant, because his party should not be proud of 50% of Scottish people being represented by three Members of Parliament. I hope the desire for proportional representation, which suited the SNP for many years—
I am winding up in a way the hon. Gentleman may not approve of—I am getting my first wind.
I hope the SNP will not forget its commitment to proportional representation just because first past the post delivered the gross, disfigured distortion of 56 MPs representing half the population and three MPs representing the other half. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that that is not an appropriate allocation and that the SNP renews its vigour when talking about proportional representation, because it has gone rather quiet on that subject.
Does my hon. Friend detect from the interventions of the SNP Members that they are perfectly happy to talk about devolution down to the Scottish level, but they are very keen not to talk about devolution down to the more local levels of the kind my hon. Friend is outlining?
I hope that even those who are heckling and shouting would say that I always try to engage people from the SNP in debate on these issues. Sometimes things get a bit interesting and a bit heated, but that is because we all care passionately about these views. I am trying to put my point of view over now. Perhaps there are shades of opinion in what appears to be a robotic, monolithic Scottish National party. Perhaps some SNP Members acknowledge that others have a different view. It might be the case that that has some resonance, and that not all of them simply wait to be told what to do at their regular Monday meeting.
I take a different view from that of my hon. Friend Christian Matheson. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Allen that, now that the SNP is the establishment in Scotland, its members are desperate to avoid any scrutiny of the way in which it runs the Scottish Government. That is because they want to be able to blame everybody else—namely, the wicked people down south—for everything that goes wrong in their country.
I am sure that the Chair would call me to order if I answered my hon. Friend’s very pertinent question, but I know that he will make that point and many others when he is called to speak.
New clause 8 is about defining. It is all very well to sit in Holyrood handing out little bits of largesse here and there, but that is exactly what Whitehall and Westminster do to everyone else. The Scottish people have suffered from that as much as the English people have. One way to get round that is to define the competences of local government and national Government in such a way that no one will be able to unpick the idea, whenever it suits them, that power should be devolved beyond Holyrood or Westminster. Unless that principle is clearly entrenched, the lure of power from the centre—be it Holyrood or Westminster—and the temptation to tell people what to do will be too strong.
New clause 8 proposes that people who want to engage in this debate should sit down and discuss with their local government—wherever it might be—what it is appropriate for local government to do. I do not believe that Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland should be immune from that idea, because otherwise they will find that power gets sucked back up. Some of my friends in Scotland are telling me that power there is becoming ever more centralised. No doubt that will be a matter of debate, but that is what people are saying. Perhaps the easiest way round that is not to say, “Oh yes, but we are very nice to people. We are benign and we give them a little bit more money here and there”, but to allow the people, the drivers who produced devolution in Scotland, to produce devolution lower down than Holyrood.
The hon. Gentleman talks about devolving power. As everyone in the Chamber knows, money is power. Will he therefore applaud the Conservative Government for devolving the retention of business rates locally? That policy has been devolved to the Scottish Government and it is now being mimicked there.
I bracket the Scottish National party and the Conservative party together. If they do good things to push power down or push finance down, I am very happy to applaud that. What I am saying is that, in order to avoid a situation in which “the centre giveth and the centre taketh away”, we all need to have a proper written settlement. Even if people do not think that it is happening now, there will be a time when the temptation for those at the centre—in Holyrood or in Westminster—to turn things round, suck power back and tell people what to do will overcome them, even those with the best hearts in the world.
May I just gently remind colleagues from Scotland that they were elected to this United Kingdom Parliament and that this is a United Kingdom Bill which will have an impact on my constituents as well as theirs? I would be delighted if my hon. Friend’s new clause would somehow enable measures similar to those in the Bill to be put into an English Bill, so that my council could help me to protect my constituents in the same way as Scottish MPs want to protect theirs. I welcome the fact that he has tabled his new clauses and the fact that they are not critical of the Bill.
That is why, knowing many of my parliamentary colleagues from Scotland, I rely on their generosity of spirit to help those of us who are trying to get a devolved settlement in other parts of the Union, not to pull up the drawbridge and say, “We’ve got what we want. Now we have a load of people in Parliament, we are no longer going to talk about proportional representation. On the back of 50% of the votes in our nation we have 95% of the seats and that’s now all okay. Now we are in control of the Scottish Parliament we are not going to use the powers, but we are going to suck up power from local government.” I know that that is not where many of my parliamentary colleagues from Scotland wish to be, but they need to speak up. They need to make that clear, in their internal meetings and inside their party. They need to be clear with people who are telling them, “Leave it to us, we are the top dogs. Do what you are told. Show up, it is your shift.” We have this in every other party, and people will hope there can be proper debate within parties so that devolution as a whole can move forward. It has to go beyond Scotland. People who really believe in devolution have to take it beyond the one area. I am happy to discuss and debate that with anybody. One area we need to talk about—[Interruption.] I would gladly give way to hon. Members rather than just have shouting, although I am happy to have shouting and gesticulating—it is the parliamentary equivalent of spitting at your opponents in the street. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is very patient, but I am not happy to have shouting and gesticulation—not that I see any that is out of order at present. I say to him that when the House becomes a little vociferous, it is possibly an indication that there is a limited time for debate. He does have four very important amendments down for discussion and he has taken a fair chunk of the time for the debate. As I said previously, I am not stopping him—he has the Floor. He is a senior and much-respected Member of this House and he will know when he has taken the right amount of time in this very short debate.
I will certainly go a lot quicker if people allow me to. As always, not a person in this Chamber can say that I do not give way when people have a real point of debate to make, rather than just wanting to yell from a sedentary position. That will continue to be my policy and I will not move from that, whatever the provocation.
New clause 9 talks about subsidiarity, which was brought to us by the former Lady from Finchley, through the Maastricht treaty. In this Bill, it would enable us to define and keep a very clear perspective on what is local, what is regional, what is national and what is federal. That will help everybody, whichever country they are in within the Union, not just to win small victories here and there, but to sustain a change in our democratic structure that will make it harder for those who so wish to do away with any settlement when they feel it convenient.
Part of the Bill relates very much to the rest of the United Kingdom, and that relates to the possibility of having a citizens convention, modelled on the Scottish convention, whereby people throughout the whole UK can face some of these issues, which are of great importance to us. The debate about EVEL—English votes for English laws— was a diversion. It was an irrelevance and mere procedural issue, and it has very little to do with devolution and greater freedom for our peoples within the UK. I hope that we move on from where we are on Scottish devolution and on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which is devolution in England, and that we take these issues forward together. All parties need to work together to ensure that there is a citizens convention on devolution, so that we can spread some of the excellent things that have been achieved by the Scottish people, by people such as Donald Dewar, by those in the Scottish citizens convention, by those who worked on the Scotland Act 2012 and by all those parties of the Union that worked together to create this Scotland Bill, which is, quite rightly, the first Bill before this Parliament. I hope that the first Bill in the 2020 Parliament is one that brings devolution to all the nations of the Union so that we all get the benefits that will rightly be enjoyed by the people in Scotland.
I wish to speak to new clause 1, which calls for an independent commission on full fiscal autonomy. I have to say to the shadow Secretary of State, who tabled it, that there is a whiff of hypocrisy about this. He may not remember it, but on
“The Secretary of State shall not appoint as a member of the commission any person who is a member of a political party.”
That is a process of thinking that suggests that, somehow, politicians should not take decisions and that the fate of nations is decided not by statesmen, but by unelected commissions. The commission will have to meet for many months, but what will it tell us that we do not already know?
The fact is full fiscal autonomy is a well understood concept; it has the virtue of simplicity. I will not repeat all the arguments I made in its favour on
I was criticised by some on the Conservative Benches for being unhelpful on
The way to solve the grievance is to have full fiscal autonomy immediately. The Scottish Parliament should be held responsible for taxing the people and spending the money. If the SNP controls the Scottish Parliament, it is held responsible by the Scottish people. Furthermore, the arguments for full fiscal autonomy have moved even more in its favour since June following our debate on EVEL.
What is the objection to EVEL by Scottish Members of Parliament and by the SNP? It is that we have the Barnett formula. They are not allowed to vote on all stages of a Bill. A Bill could change English spending, and in doing so it automatically changes Scottish spending, but Scottish MPs are not allowed to vote on all stages of the Bill.
If the Scottish Parliament had full fiscal autonomy—if we did away with the Barnett formula—there would be no need for EVEL. The only reserved matters would be foreign affairs and defence, which account for a very small proportion of total spending. The budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is 0.2% of gross national product, that of the Department for International Development is 7%, as we know, and that of the Ministry of Defence is 2%. Sometimes a whole year will pass without there being any legislation on the MOD or the Foreign Office. If the Scottish Parliament had full fiscal autonomy, and therefore the only legislation that affected the Scottish people was to do with foreign affairs and defence, there would be no need for EVEL.
This whole debate about Barnett and EVEL is in danger of being used by our political opponents. That is not what I want, but they are our political opponents, after all. They oppose the Union. They are entitled to make what arguments they like, and they will use the debate around EVEL to argue against the United Kingdom.
I do indeed remember the amendment that the hon. Gentleman brought before the House in relation to full fiscal autonomy. He will remember that the shadow Chancellor also voted in the Lobby with him and Scottish National party Members on full fiscal autonomy. Does he agree that it might be progress for the Labour party if it followed the party leadership on this matter?
I do not know if the new shadow Chancellor voted in our Lobby, but there seems to be an interesting concept nowadays in the Labour party: there is full freedom on the Labour Benches and, apparently, the Labour party leader can oppose Labour party policy on Trident and much else. As we have just heard, the shadow Chancellor opposes Labour party policy on full fiscal autonomy. This is an interesting situation. I have made my point. I do not believe this is a genuine proposal from the shadow Secretary of State.
I respect the hon. Gentleman immensely. If he thinks back to the debate we had on
I do not want to get into a debate about a black hole, the deficit and all the rest of it. I remember that I was intervened on by George Kerevan and I accepted that there should be transitional arrangements. I made the point that this was not a right-wing Tory trap for the SNP. This was not a device to get rid of Barnett because we were claiming that the Scottish people get £1,600 a year more. I said precisely that if there was full fiscal autonomy and we got rid of Barnett, we should retain the United Kingdom and there should be a grant formula based on need.
If, for instance, Scotland had a particular problem, as we have in Lincolnshire with the sparsity factor in relation to education provision, or with declining industries, we are a United Kingdom Parliament. We are a fraternal Parliament. I believe in the Union, I believe in our standing together. If there is a need for the United Kingdom—I called it the imperial Parliament, as it were—to help out our friends in Wales—[Interruption.] SNP Members do not like that word, but I used it advisedly. That was the term that was used during the debates on Irish home rule. It is a technical term. If our friends in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland need extra help from the United Kingdom Parliament, we should give that help, but it should be based on needs, not on an automatic formula based on Barnett, which is an outmoded concept that has outlived its usefulness. It is also, as I have said, very dangerous in the context of the debate on English votes for English laws.
I am sorry to take the Labour party to task, because I respect the shadow Secretary of State. Labour is making some progress, but it is still behind the curve and I do not believe it will ever get back in front of the curve in Scotland unless it is bold. I repeat the point I made back in June: whether we like it or not, we have the election system that we have. We, the Unionist parties, went to the Scottish people. We based our arguments on the Smith commission, and we lost 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland.
Mr Allen can complain about that, but that is the parliamentary system we have. We have to accept that, whether we like it or not, the Smith commission was rejected by the Scottish people. If we want to save the Union—and I am as passionate about the Union as the hon. Gentleman —we cannot be behind the curve on this. We have to be big-hearted, we have to be bold, and we have to move with full fiscal autonomy and move with it now.
I rise to speak to the amendments tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends in proceedings which, thus far, most viewers in Scotland will frankly view as a total travesty and a farce. We are told that this is a piece of legislation of amazing proportions and importance, yet there are fewer than 10 Back Benchers on the Conservative Benches and fewer than 10 Members of Parliament on the Labour Benches. What does it say about the Unionist parties in this House that they cannot even be bothered to turn up for a debate about something they think is so important? We are debating the Report stage of the Scotland Bill with 200 or more amendments and new clauses before us—200!—yet we have heard extended speeches about English local government and a whole series of other things that have absolutely nothing to do with today’s proceedings.
The context of these proceedings is clear to people listening and watching in Scotland. First, a promise—a vow—was made. Secondly, we heard day in, day out that devo-max would be delivered, even from Labour MPs of the time. The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said that we were near to federalism:
“Within a year or two, as close to a federal state as…can be.”
One can call this Bill many things, but it is not a charter for federalism—it is a long, long way from that. We all know about its shortcomings; they have been denied by the Government, but they are clear to pretty much anybody else who cares to look. We know because others who are not in political parties, and do not have a vested interest, have said so, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Carers Scotland, Enable Scotland, and—how about this—the cross-party committee of the Scottish Parliament, on which senior Conservative and Labour MSPs served, that had the obligation to look at this. It said that the Scotland Bill “falls short” in some “critical areas”, and that it does not meet the “spirit or substance” of the Smith commission’s recommendations and requires extensive redrafting in other key areas.
What about those who do have a political vested interest? How about—let us pick one—the deputy leader of the Labour party in Scotland, Mr Alex Rowley? He said on BBC Radio Scotland on
“No ifs, no buts, Smith has not been delivered” and
“We will stand shoulder to shoulder with SNP Ministers to deliver Smith.”
How ironic. Where were those voices today—where were the speeches? Perhaps we can hear them later. We have not heard a single one that reflects those realities.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the Smith commission followed the referendum. As I have said in previous debates in this House, we recognise and respect the result of the referendum, and we proceeded to work with the other political parties in the Smith commission.
We then went to the country in a general election, and, like other political parties, we stood on a manifesto. The manifesto said:
“We welcome the proposals set out in the Smith Commission, as far as they go. The further watering down of the agreed proposals, by the UK government, is unacceptable. There should be no effective veto for UK ministers on the exercise of the various new powers, in particular over the welfare system. We share the view of many organisations across Scotland that the package, as it stands, does not enable us to deliver fully either the greater social justice or the powerhouse economy that our country demands. As the STUC has said, ‘there is not enough’ in the Smith Commission recommendations ‘to empower the Scottish Parliament to tackle inequality in Scotland’… The Smith Commission proposals were, in many respects, a missed opportunity. Decisions about more than 70 per cent of Scottish taxes and 85 per cent of current UK welfare spending in Scotland will stay at Westminster.”
We also went to the country with the following pledge:
“Scotland should have the opportunity to establish its own constitutional framework, including human rights, equalities and the place of local government. The Scottish Parliament should also have the ability to directly represent its interests on devolved matters in the EU and internationally.”
We went to the country with those pledges, and what happened? There was an absolute electoral wipeout for the Labour party in Scotland, losing 40 out of 41 seats from right across Scotland. Ian Murray is pointing to Conservative Members, whom I will move on to next. It was the worst electoral showing in 100 years—since 1865. I must say to the Secretary of State, because I have challenged him before on this, that I would be grateful if he pointed out a single country in the industrialised democratic world where the mainstream centre-right party does as badly as the Scottish Conservative party. Name that country!
Since the hon. Gentleman has put that on the record so many times, I want to point out that the Conservative party polled more votes in the 2015 general election than in 2010 election. He has sought to distort those figures. Perhaps he would like to join me in congratulating the new Conservative councillor in Aberdeenshire, who topped the poll in the very constituency of Alex Salmond.
Oh dear, oh dear! The right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to name a single country in the industrialised democratic world where a centre-right party does worse than the Scottish Conservative party, but he could not think of one because there are none. The Scottish Tories polled 14.9%, down two points on the previous general election. To be proud of that—
For the Secretary of State for Scotland to deny the facts just goes to show how far the Conservative party, the Labour party and—[Interruption.] I was going to add the Liberal Democrats—there is not a single one in the Chamber—because they lost 10 out of 11 seats in Scotland.
The point of saying all this is to understand where the democratic mandate lies. We went to the country saying that Smith should be delivered in full and that further powers should be delivered, and the Scottish National party won an overwhelming mandate to come to this place and make our case.
The hon. Gentleman will have time to make a speech later in the proceedings. There is very little time, and I am the first parliamentarian from the SNP to be called in these proceedings more than an hour after the beginning of this debate.
The sole purpose of the Scotland Bill is to implement the Smith commission in full. The UK Government’s amendments are a welcome admission that the Scotland Bill, as published, did not deliver Smith. However, the Government’s amendments tabled on Report still fail to deliver Smith and still fail Scotland. SNP Members have tabled a range of amendments that will give the people of Scotland the powers they were promised and the powers that they will need. We have tabled amendments on tax credits, which would devolve control over all aspects of working and child tax credits, and on employment rights, which would devolve control over employment rights and industrial relations to the Scottish Parliament. We will debate those in the next group of amendments, when they will be addressed by my hon. Friend Dr Whiteford.
We have also tabled new clause 36 to devolve the power to hold a referendum on Scottish independence to the Scottish Parliament. There should only be another referendum on Scottish independence when the people of Scotland indicate that they want one, but it is right that the Scottish Parliament—the people of Scotland’s Parliament—should hold the power to react to the wishes of the people of Scotland.
We should not lose sight of the fiscal framework. That is the financial underpinning that will allow the transfer of powers to operate without detriment to the people of Scotland.
I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman before the debate, so he knew that this question was coming. This debate is clearly about the constitution and tax. The Scottish Parliament intends to end tax relief for sporting estates, which bring substantial revenue and many jobs to Scotland. Scotland is famed for its outstanding scenery and tremendous field sports opportunities. This must be about the approach to managing natural resources. Does he agree that, when it comes to recreating tax forms and making sure that the distribution of moneys is correct, this is a great opportunity to enshrine safe ground partnership principles at the heart of government?
The hon. Gentleman has put his point of view on the record. I encourage him to get in touch directly with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment in Scotland, Richard Lochhead. We are proud of the Scottish Government’s rural affairs agenda. Incidentally, I commend the hon. Gentleman’s party for turning up in greater strength to this debate than the Liberal Democrats.
To hold the 2014 referendum, the Scottish and UK Governments were required to agree a section 30 order, which amended schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, to grant the Scottish Government the legislative competence to hold a referendum, providing that a number of conditions were met—namely, that it was held before the end of 2014 and that the ballot paper included one question.
New clause 36 would permanently transfer to the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence. It is right that the Scottish Parliament should decide on that, and not this place. As the First Minister has made clear, the SNP manifesto for next year’s Scottish election will set out our position on a second independence referendum and consider in what circumstances such a referendum might be appropriate at some point in the future. However, the final decision on whether there is another referendum and on whether Scotland ever becomes independent will always be for the people of Scotland.
In the meantime, I observe that support for Scottish independence has continued to grow. If people back home are watching this debate, I have no doubt that it will rise even further. A Panelbase poll for The Sunday Times found that 47% of people in Scotland currently support independence and that more than two thirds believe that the country will be independent by 2045.
Support for independence has risen as the UK Government have failed to meet their promises on more powers; continued with austerity; introduced further welfare cuts; and promoted English votes for English laws. Since the referendum, the UK Government’s attitude towards Scotland has angered a great many people. Those who are watching proceedings today have good reason to be angered yet more. On EVEL, the Scotland Bill and austerity, the UK Government have shown scant regard for the voice of the people of Scotland.
We will not lose sight of the financial arrangements that relate to the Bill. We raised them in Scottish questions last week. We understand that a negotiating process is under way between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. It is critical that that financial framework is negotiated in good faith between both Governments and without detriment to the people of Scotland.
I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has got on to the fiscal framework. At Scottish questions last week, I asked the Secretary of State whether we could have a little more transparency about the discussions to prevent anyone or any party in this Chamber from misinterpreting what the fiscal framework is trying to achieve. The Scottish people can then make their own judgment about whether it is detrimental to Scotland or otherwise.
Without wanting to concern the hon. Gentleman, I agree with him. Transparency is a good thing. Our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are significantly happier than we are here with the open approach that the Scottish Government are taking on this matter. Obviously the negotiations are between the two Governments, but the Secretary of State could easily come to this House and provide more information to the hon. Gentleman’s satisfaction and mine.
The Smith commission identified that Scotland’s budget
“should be no larger or smaller simply as a result of the initial transfer” of powers. It recommended that the devolution of further tax and spending powers to the Scottish Parliament
“should be accompanied by an updated fiscal framework for Scotland” and that
“the Scottish and UK Governments should jointly work via the Joint Exchequer Committee to agree a revised fiscal and funding framework for Scotland”.
The UK and Scottish Governments are negotiating the fiscal framework on an ongoing basis. It should allow the Scottish Government to pursue their own distinct policies that meet the needs and wishes of the people of Scotland. For fiscal devolution to work, it is essential that the Scottish Government have the flexibility to pursue distinct fiscal policies, consistent with the overall UK fiscal framework.
The block grant adjustment should be robust and transparent, deliver a fair outcome for Scotland and be agreed by both Governments. The effect of the adjustment should be to ensure that the Scottish Government’s budget is in broad terms no better or worse off in the long term compared with what the devolved taxes would have raised had they not been devolved. The Scottish Government have said that they will not sign up to any adjustment that is not fair to Scotland. That is in line with the “no detriment” principle set out in Smith.
Before us today, we have 200 amendments and new clauses. They are massively important to people in Scotland. Sadly, they are clearly not important to the Labour and Conservative parties, which are here in such small numbers. I will bring my contribution to a close to ensure that more Members of Parliament for Scotland have the opportunity to take part.
The people of Scotland are watching these proceedings. We are told that this is the mother of all Parliaments. This is supposed to be the most important legislation about the future of our country, yet it has been shoehorned into less than one day of proceedings. Incidentally, for the information of the shadow Secretary of State, that happened against the wishes of the Scottish National party, which pressed for another day of proceedings so that we could look into the proposals in detail. People should look and learn, because if this is the way to legislate, we do not need it. The Scottish Parliament is a 21st-century Parliament. If ever a case was put for the Scottish Parliament to be able to exercise power over all issues that matter to the people of Scotland, this is it.
It is a pleasure to follow Angus Robertson—[Interruption.] I apologise for my pronunciation—I have lived in England for over 15 years and one’s accent does change. It was also a pleasure to listen to Pete Wishart. I agree that this is an important constitutional Bill. We are hearing today about how the Bill will make the Scottish Parliament not just a permanent institution in the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements, but one of the world’s most powerful devolved Parliaments.
Crucially, the Bill will allow more decisions that affect Scotland to be taken in Scotland. It will increase the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and its accountability to the Scottish public. Perhaps that is a word that SNP Members do not wish to hear, because accountability is something that has been lacking these last eight years in Scotland, when gripes and grievances have constantly been thrown to London about decisions and powers that already rest with the SNP Scottish Government.
The package that has been brought before the House today by the Secretary of State and his team contains substantial financial powers, including over income tax and VAT, the devolution of substantial elements of the welfare system and a range of other powers, including constitutional powers and powers over transport, such as responsibility for air passenger duty.
The hon. Gentleman already has extensive powers over income tax. We should ask why, in the past eight years, the SNP has failed to use any of the substantial powers it has, instead blaming London and England for all the problems that it creates back in Scotland.
Along with a powerful and accountable Scottish Parliament—there is that word “accountable” again—Scotland will retain the huge benefits of being part of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The people of Scotland voted for those benefits. Remember those people? That’s right—the democratic majority that voted to stay part of our United Kingdom last year. Sadly, that fact has been lacking.
It is interesting to hear that the hon. Gentleman has lived in England for 15 years and represents an English seat. I believe he stood in Scotland once. How did he get on?
It would be fair to say that SNP Members simply do not want to answer the question about accountability. What have they done with the powers that they have had over the past eight years? They have simply blamed England and London for all the problems that they have created in the public sector.
The Bill will turn the historic all-party Smith agreement, which the SNP agreed upon, into constitutional legislation. From today onwards, the Conservative party will be able to lay claim to being the true party of the Scots who believe in our United Kingdom—that is to say, the majority of Scotsmen and women who voted to stay in the Union.
These are serious and important issues for the constitutional governance of our country. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that all we seem to be hearing from nationalist Members is percentages, political polls, who stood where and who lost what, instead of sticking to the facts and telling us how they are going to use the powers in the Bill? [Laughter.]
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The laughter that we are hearing from SNP Members about the discussions that we are having on this constitutional Bill is a disgrace.
It is no surprise that nationalist MPs are true to form and continue to create grievance where there is none. They offer mischief to the people of Scotland when they should be working with all parties in the House. “Better together”—that is what the people of Scotland voted for merely a year ago. They voted for a better United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not separation. They do not want constitutional uncertainty; nor, for that matter, do the people of my constituency, South Leicestershire. We are a small but great island nation, and the British people are fed up with the constant mischief being created by nationalist MPs.
The truth is that nothing at all will please SNP Members. That should be no surprise, because all they want is the end of the United Kingdom. They will therefore not support any Scotland Bill, no matter what devolved powers might be offered to them. They simply do not want it.
We can see that the respect agenda only goes from the Government Benches to the SNP Benches. There is simply no respect from SNP Members, and there is no interest in being respectful, because they simply want the destruction of Great Britain, and we will never permit that.
We must remind the House of another vow, as I did in my maiden speech. I am pleased to see that Alex Salmond is in his place, because we will never forget another promise that was given to the people of Scotland, and indeed to the whole United Kingdom. What was the vow that he gave? He told the voters of Scotland that the referendum was
“a once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime, opportunity”.
What disrespect SNP Members are showing the people of Scotland today. Barely a year has passed, and they are demanding another referendum. We can never again trust the SNP with any agreement on a referendum. The people of South Leicestershire are fed up with faux grievance. They want stability, and the Bill will provide stability for the whole United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman has said that one of the biggest issues for his constituents in South Leicestershire is making sure that EVEL goes through so that we cannot vote on English laws. Will the same constituents not be puzzled about why he is here participating in this debate and adding absolutely nothing to it?
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. If he is talking about a Member who comes from Scotland representing an English constituency, he forgets that this is the British Parliament. I represent a British constituency in the United Kingdom Parliament, and we must never forget that.
Another argument that we have heard for months now is that SNP Members, perhaps using Uri Geller-style psychic powers, can tell us what was in the minds of the no voters. Let me establish once and for all what was in the minds of the no voters. I campaigned in Scotland and spoke to thousands of no voters, and they voted for one simple thing: no to separation, and yes to the United Kingdom, full stop. Anything else that SNP Members suggest they may have voted for is simply based on no evidence.
SNP Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot tell us why they want independence and at the same time tell us what was in the minds of the no voters. The no voters voted no because they want and love the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that we do not know what was in the mind of the no voters. We have spent months knocking on doors and speaking to them, and they have told us, “I regret it. I voted no because I was afraid, but I wish now that I had voted yes.” We are not mind reading; they spoke to us.
Given the promises that the former First Minister made about oil tax revenues, many yes voters have told me how pleased they are that the no voters won. Look at where Scotland would be today had the people of Scotland voted for separation. I am afraid the hon. Lady is fundamentally wrong; many yes voters are very pleased indeed that the people of Scotland sensibly voted to maintain the United Kingdom.
Not at this stage.
The truth is that the SNP simply does not want to answer the legitimate questions that we should be asking today about the Bill. It is time for SNP Members to explain to the House, and to the people of Scotland, how they intend to use the extensive powers in the Bill. They are always complaining, but they have not explained that. For example, how will they sort out the mess of the Scottish NHS, which they are in charge of? The SNP gives it less money than the English NHS is given. How will the SNP sort out its centralising tendency? Take Police Scotland, for example. What a clever idea—“Let’s centralise power to Edinburgh”. That is another example of how the SNP holds power to itself, creating a one-party state.
How will the SNP ensure that it properly finances Scotland’s fantastic universities, one of which I was proud to go to? What about answering the questions that university leaders ask the SNP Government about the lack of money, and the problems with governance structures, that the SNP is inflicting on Scottish universities? How will the SNP ensure that it improves the criminal justice system in Scotland rather than blaming London and England and creating gripe and grievance where there is none? The truth is that the SNP has been in government for eight long years, and it is about time it took some accountability rather than blaming London for everything.
The Bill will show the SNP for what it really is, once and for all—a party failing the people of Scotland and ignoring the wishes of the democratic majority who said no to independence.
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if SNP Members do not sit here and listen to him do down our Scottish NHS or our university system, which provides free education for our young people because that is what we believe in in Scotland. He is demonstrating, I think, a wilful lack of understanding of how Scotland works.
We believe in accountability. We win elections in Scotland; in fact, we win elections by majority under a proportional representation system, and we won the general election in Scotland. We are here debating the Scotland Bill, and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman began to debate the Bill, so that we can have maximum powers for Scotland and deliver for the people of Scotland where the UK Government have failed them.
Order. Hon. Members might not agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it is simply rude to laugh so loudly and make so much noise that he cannot be heard. Just as I defended Angus Robertson and made sure that he was heard, so I defend the hon. Gentleman. He will be heard.
What will the people of Scotland make of the laughter coming from the SNP Benches? That is disrespectful, and that is the disgraceful state of affairs with Scottish MPs in this House. The truth is that the Secretary of State and his team are presenting a formidable constitutional settlement for the people of Scotland who want a strong United Kingdom of Great Britain. I believe in Scotland having a strong place in the United Kingdom, but there is no devolved settlement that the Government can offer SNP Members because they simply do not want one. SNP Members want the end of the United Kingdom, but we want to see it stay together. This Bill will settle the argument once and for all.
The hon. Gentleman is concluding on the basis that the Bill goes as far as the Smith commission, but a committee of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament—including those from the Conservative party—said that the Bill does not meet the aspirations of the Smith commission. How does he answer people in Scotland and his own party who do not believe that the Bill goes far enough?
That is simply not the case. The Scottish Parliament’s committees are stuffed to the gunnels with SNP MSPs, so there is no surprise that they are taking the party line. In conclusion, I offer an olive branch to SNP Members. If they genuinely believe in keeping promises to the electorate, let us start with the promise from the right hon. Member for Gordon. They had the referendum, and they lost. Let us now work better together to strengthen Scotland and our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Let me start with some context. We are discussing this Bill because of what happened on
Also among that 55%, and the group that made the difference to the outcome, were people who believed what they were told by the leaders of all the Unionist parties, which was that the
The Smith commission considered what that new relationship would be, and there was a five-party discussion. It is in the nature of such things that if we are seeking consensus, the bar will be pretty low, and the Smith commission published a report on how proposals for greater devolution might be implemented. At the time, the SNP signed off on those proposals, but we said that they were only a floor and not a ceiling to our aspirations for self-government. We also said that Smith did not go far enough to satisfy the vow.
At the beginning of this year the Government published the first draft of this Bill, and it was clear that the proposals had been watered down even more. The Smith commission is not delivering the vow, and the draft Bill does not even deliver the Smith commission—and that is not just our view. Alberto Costa would probably say that we would say that, because we would be dissatisfied with whatever happens, and perhaps we would be. The Conservative party might be unfamiliar with the concepts of mandate and consent, but we are quite relaxed about it, so what we did after forming a view and an analysis is put that to the Scottish electorate and the people of Scotland. We do not have to guess what was in their minds, because we know what they did at the May general election.
My right hon. Friend Angus Robertson has explained and quoted from the manifesto on which we stood in that election, but let us be clear: this issue was not No. 97 in our manifesto; it was point No. 1. The main theme of the general election in Scotland, and the central proposition of our party, was that the Scottish Government should receive additional powers, over and beyond what is in this Bill.
I never said that. I accept—every Government should accept this—that no Government have the right to stand in the way of people who wish for a particular direction. We sought a mandate, and we got a mandate. Whatever happens today, let us please understand that the Bill does not satisfy the aspirations of the Scottish people for greater control over their own affairs. The Bill is a response to the Smith commission. We are still waiting for the Government’s response to the general election, when the people of Scotland made their view quite clear. Whatever happens today, this is not over. We shall be coming back during the next five years of our domain in this Chamber to argue again and again for more powers for the Scottish Government to satisfy the aspirations of the Scottish people. If that takes a further Scotland Bill at some later stage, so be it.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that the rest of the United Kingdom would also like a say in this debate? This debate is not just about Scotland; it is about the Ulster Scots, in my case, and about everyone else. SNP Members have a good indication of how the Scottish feel, but the rest of us have not had the chance to discuss the same point with our electorate. The message that I was getting loud and clear from my Northern Irish electorate when knocking on doors—
The hon. Gentleman must speak for the people who elected him, and I will speak for those who elected me. I am discussing the Scotland Bill, as amended—that is what I have been speaking about, and what I intend to speak on. The Bill falls far short of the expectations not just of the SNP, but of the people of Scotland. Civic society, trade unions, Churches and voluntary organisations throughout Scotland are disappointed at the poverty of ambition shown by the Secretary of State and the Government in the Bill.
Let me return to the Bill, because that is all we currently have—I do not normally read when making a speech, but I will read this quote so that I do not get it wrong. The Secretary of State said, on
“I am absolutely clear that the Scotland Bill does fulfil in full the recommendations of the Smith commission.”
He has obviously had the benefit of a relaxing summer to consider the situation and determine whether that statement was in fact true. It now seems that it cannot have been true, because we have no fewer than 128 amendments from the Government to their Bill. I submit that never in the field of discussion of legislation has a Bill been so amended by its proposers and still managed to fall so far short of its declared objectives.
None the less, it is welcome that second thoughts are being had and that some improvements are being made. The first improvement is on the question of permanence, although I wonder why it has taken until now to happen. It is good that new clause 12 contains the agreement that the Scottish Parliament will not be taken away, dissolved or otherwise removed without first a plebiscite among the Scottish people to see what they want to do. I am pleased that the Secretary of State, in tabling that new clause, recognises where sovereignty lies on that question. It should lie with the people of Scotland whose government we are discussing. I invite the Secretary of State to support new clause 36 which would enshrine that principle of sovereignty a little more. It provides that in future discussions about the arrangements for the government of Scotland, it should be the people of Scotland’s Parliament that determines what those discussions are and the timetable by which they are put to the people in a referendum. That is only a logical extension once it has been conceded that sovereignty should lie with the people. If it is not the Scottish Parliament that should consider and respond to a future referendum, should there be one, who else should do so? It would be ridiculous for this Parliament to retain that power for itself.
The Smith commission was clear when it said that the Sewel convention should be enshrined in statute. The Bill still—after all this time—does not make that happen. The Sewel convention says that the “imperial Parliament” —to quote Sir Edward Leigh—should not interfere in devolved decisions by the Scottish Parliament or other devolved Assemblies. The SNP’s new clause would enshrine that convention in law and enshrine the principle of subsidiarity—decisions being taken as close to the people as possible.
I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his support on this matter. The principle is clear: you do not keep a dog and bark yourself. Once power has been devolved to organisations, they must be allowed to get on with it.
I was disappointed that Mr Allen took almost 20% of the time available for this debate not to discuss constitutional principles about the governance of Scotland, but to pursue his concerns about the decentralisation of services. What we are discussing is a change in the constitutional arrangements between Scotland and England within the Union. We are talking about giving more authority and competences to the Scottish Government, and that is not the same thing as the decentralisation and better administration of public services in England. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to do that and is unlikely to have made friends to support his argument as a result.
My final point is on full fiscal autonomy. I think that some of our opponents thought that when we did not get that through the last time, we would forget about it. Believe me, we have not forgotten about it. We want the Scottish Government to have control over the economy in Scotland. We want the ability to grow our economy and for our priorities to be set in line with the aspirations of the people who live in Scotland. I heard some interesting arguments from the hon. Member for Gainsborough and others in favour of full fiscal autonomy, but I have yet to hear a principled argument against it. Ian Murray often talks of a black hole, but that is not an argument in principle against full fiscal autonomy—against giving the Scottish Government control over economic affairs. It is an argument for saying that we should prepare for that devolution of powers and make sure that we get it right. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come round to that way of thinking. We will object to the proposal to give a Conservative Secretary of State the power to set up a commission to look into whether full fiscal autonomy could happen, because he has already made his intentions in that regard clear.
We will come back to this issue, and it will be the subject of future debate in Scotland. The grandest commission of all on this debate will be the electorate of Scotland, who will get another opportunity in six or seven months’ time to decide whether they want better economic powers for their Government. We will get another mandate and come back to make that argument again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Moray referred to the fiscal framework. It is not for us today to get involved, or even seek to influence, the discussions between Scottish and UK Ministers on the fiscal framework, but we have to be clear about what is at stake. The Smith commission was clear: it said that whatever powers are devolved to Scotland in this or any other settlement, it should be at no detriment. In other words, at the point of transfer of the power, the Scottish budget should not suffer as a consequence. I want to hear from the Secretary of State whether he believes in that principle. Is it guiding his discussions with Scottish Ministers? If it is used simply as a device to cut the Scottish budget and not provide adequate funding for the delivery of the new powers, he will do his cause a great disservice and hasten the day that we come back with a new Bill that will be a considerable improvement on this one.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I remember helping to organise events at which Donald Dewar, Alex Salmond, who has just left his place, and Sean Connery spoke at the old royal high school building, overlooking what would become the site of the new Scottish Parliament. SNP Members did not object so much then to people from England taking an interest in Scottish politics. That referendum led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, and the amendments to the Scotland Bill that Labour has tabled, which I wish to support today, will make it a permanent part of the UK’s constitution.
I promise that my speech will be the shortest we have heard today, but I want to set out some practical arguments in support of the case made for greater decentralisation by my hon. Friend Mr Allen. As we have heard, these proposals constitute the biggest transfer of power since the Scotland Act 1998. The Bill will make the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved parliament in the world. It will raise 50% of its own expenditure, with power over most of the revenue from income tax and much of social security.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that these proposals are—to quote a Scotsman—
“as close to a federal state as you can be”?
A simple yes or no answer will do.
As I have said, the proposals will make the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved parliament in the world. Labour has been the driving force behind this Bill. We have pushed to ensure that Scotland has all the extra powers, including powers over welfare, to allow the Scottish Parliament to design a new social security system for Scotland and to ensure the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to mitigate the impact of Tory cuts to tax credits. Despite their desperation to be disappointed and their determination to stoke grievance and fuel resentment, SNP Members have said that this will give the Scottish Parliament the powers it needs to create a new social security system in Scotland. When asked whether the Bill gives Holyrood the power to make up any reduction in tax credits, Alex Neil, the SNP welfare spokesperson, said:
“The amendments...should give the Scottish Parliament those powers.”
Despite that, the Nats have tabled a series of amendments, including 10 new clauses on national insurance, the living wage, employment legislation, industrial relations, benefits, full fiscal autonomy and the power to decide whether and when to hold another referendum.
“a party that is now in the second term of office cannot avoid responsibility for its own failings.”
She is absolutely right. Like her, I think the Nats should be judged on their record of running Scotland’s schools and hospitals. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North. The truth is that in Scotland’s schools the gap between the richest and the rest is growing, its hospitals are struggling and its housing system is in crisis. The separatists are now the establishment.
Our junior doctors in Scotland are not out on the streets marching and balloting for strike action. The hon. Gentleman might wish to make a direct comparison of performance before he attacks our NHS.
Order. No shouting out, please. A Member is speaking and it is quite difficult to hear what he is saying. It is not appropriate to shout things out. If people want to speak they can intervene or stand up and take part in the debate. Let us have no shouting.
I am afraid they are behaving like nationalist bullies the world over. They try to silence anybody who has a different view. They want to pretend that whether or not you are allowed to take part in a debate in this Chamber depends on where you represent and the accent you have. It is a complete and utter disgrace.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is an absolute disgrace.
An even bigger disgrace is the state of education in Scotland, which is run by the SNP. The gap between the richest and the rest has persisted, meaning that the poorest children in Scotland are not getting the opportunities they should. Young people from deprived backgrounds who get to university are facing grants and bursaries that have been cut, making them the lowest in the UK. Every year, more than 6,000 children in Scotland leave primary school unable to read properly, and pupils from a wealthier background are twice as likely to get a higher A than pupils from deprived backgrounds. Pupils from wealthy backgrounds are twice as likely to go on to higher education as those from deprived backgrounds. In further education, 140,000 fewer students are going to college in Scotland, and funding for Scotland’s colleges has been cut by £53 million. Scotland has the lowest percentage of university entrants from the poorest backgrounds and the lowest proportion of entrants from state schools in the UK. As I said, grants and bursaries for poor students have been cut by 35%.
A moment ago, Dr Whitford asked me about the health service in Scotland. The truth is that under the SNP standards have been slipping. Waiting time targets have been missed and pressure is increasing on nurses and doctors. Analysis from the impartial Scottish Parliament Information Centre shows that the SNP has not increased investment in the NHS as much as in England, despite rising demand. The accident and emergency waiting time target has not been met for six years. More than 400,000 people have had to wait more than four hours in A and E since 2011. The new flagship Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow posted the lowest waiting time targets since its opening: only 77% of patients were seen within four hours.
The hon. Lady asked what Scottish doctors are saying. Only one third of NHS Scotland staff say there are enough staff for them to do their job properly. Despite promising less private involvement in the NHS, spending on private health services is at its highest since devolution.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North on the case for greater decentralisation from Holyrood to local authorities, because that might enable local authorities in Scotland to tackle the housing crisis across the country. Scotland is facing its biggest housing crisis since the second world war, with nearly 180,000 people in Scotland on social housing waiting lists. Audit Scotland estimates that Scotland will need more than 500,000 new homes in the next 25 years. In 2007, the year Labour left office in Scotland, there were 25,741 housing completions. In 2014, there were just 15,000—a 40% reduction.
When I visited Edinburgh for a weekend last month, I was absolutely stunned—[Interruption.] Mr MacNeil thinks it is funny. The level of rough sleeping on the streets of Edinburgh is an absolute disgrace. His colleagues in the SNP should be thoroughly ashamed. Everyone knows that under the Conservatives rough sleeping is increasing right across the country, but I have to say that I saw many more rough sleepers on the streets of Edinburgh than I have ever seen on the streets of Birmingham, which is a much, much bigger city.
On full fiscal autonomy, I agree with new clause 1 and the case for a commission. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the SNP’s plans would leave a £7.6 billion black hole in Scotland’s finances that the separatists have absolutely no idea how to fill. The Nats might deny that, so let us have the full independent review that Labour is calling for and get the facts.
Having listened to the debate, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would be forgiven for thinking that SNP Members would much rather invent rows with the rest of the UK than improve life for people across Scotland. Their whole approach is designed to drive up resentment and blame everyone else for their failings. Instead of being held to account for their record, they want to blame the nasty people down south for everything that goes wrong: everything that goes right in Scotland is down to the SNP; everything that goes wrong is down to the rest of us. The truth is that SNP Members are not interested in policy. They are obsessed with breaking up the country, but having been rejected in the referendum they are trying to engineer a separation by fuelling grievance in Scotland, winding up the English and undermining Labour, because they know they have more chance of a successful vote in a referendum with a Tory Government in place in Westminster.
They are more interested in breaking up Britain than they are in improving the health service, improving education and providing housing for the poorest people in Scotland. It is much easier to blame everything on a supposedly wicked Westminster than it is to try to use the powers they have to improve things in Scotland. In fact, the last thing they want to do is solve the problems in education, health or housing, because then they would not be able to stoke resentment, fuel grievance and blame the nasty English for causing them. It is, I am afraid, the perpetual Nat whinge: blame everyone else for your failings and pretend that everything would be solved if only the country was broken up.
In contrast with the previous speech, which was an ill-informed diatribe criticising the Scottish Government, I rise to address the Bill before us today. I am going to use what precious time I have to speak in favour of amendment 204.
Amendment 204 would introduce a subsection to clause 11 that would remove the Human Rights Act 1998 from the list of protected provisions in schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998. This would have the effect of removing the Human Rights Act from the list of enactments that cannot be modified by the Scottish Parliament. If the Scottish Parliament was able to modify the Human Rights Act, that would allow the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament fully to establish a human rights regime in Scotland regardless of whether the Act was repealed by the UK Parliament in London.
The UK Government, which have no mandate in Scotland, have repeatedly made clear their intention to repeal the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a Bill of Rights. They have made it clear that they scorn European and international norms on human rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. They have made it clear that they want to replace the Human Rights Act with a watered-down version of the rights and protections that everybody in the UK currently enjoys. We saw that very much trailed in
The Sunday Times yesterday.
We in Scotland do not wish to have the terms of the debate on human rights in Scotland dictated by the UK Parliament, because in Scotland we have a very different agenda. There is no mandate in Scotland for repeal of the Human Rights Act. Preserving the Human Rights Act was an issue during the campaigns in both the independence referendum and the general election. The SNP has consistently opposed repeal, and as my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson said, we won the general election in Scotland. Indeed, including Labour’s and the Liberal Democrats’ sole representatives in Scotland, 58 out of 59 Scottish MPs oppose repeal.
I think I will make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
Last year, the Scottish Parliament voted by 100 to 10 to endorse the Human Rights Act, and civic society in Scotland, from the Scottish Trades Union Congress to the Church of Scotland, also opposes repeal. Nevertheless, this UK Government have repeatedly confirmed that they intend to go ahead with repeal and that it will apply equally in Scotland as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, we are concerned by repeated statements from Ministers of this Government suggesting they believe they could repeal the Act without consulting the Scottish Parliament. Their argument seems to be that they would not need a legislative consent motion, but that is incorrect. Human rights are not a reserved matter under the devolution settlement. Schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998 protects the Human Rights Act against modification by the Scottish Parliament, but human rights per se are not a reserved matter. They are not listed as such among the reserved matters in schedule 5 to the 1998 Act. It was part of the late Donald Dewar’s scheme that all matters would be devolved unless specifically reserved, and human rights are not specifically reserved.
Moreover, human rights and the European convention on human rights are written into the Scotland Act, meaning that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers cannot pass legislation that is incompatible with the convention.
No, I will make progress. We have heard quite a lot from the hon. Gentleman already. These are important points of great concern to the Scottish electorate, and I want to make them very clear.
In Scotland, we have a national action plan for human rights, as well as a United Nations-accredited Scottish Human Rights Commission, and our commitment to human rights extends not just to the ECHR, but beyond that to social and economic rights.
It is hard to take that seriously. Since we have been in the House, we have, through the judicious questioning of Ministers, established that one of their main concerns about the Human Rights Act is the fear they should have to take account of—that is all the Act says—the decisions of the Strasbourg Court. Given that they fear having to take account of European and international norms, I can only assume they want to replace the Act with a considerably watered-down version of the ECHR and the Act. That is merely a logical deduction.
It was only about five minutes ago, but I thank the hon. and learned Lady very much indeed. I agree with her comments about the Human Rights Act, but would she accept that what she says about Scotland also applies to Wales and to Northern Ireland especially?
I do. As our First Minister has made clear, and as I have made clear in the House several times, we will do everything we can to preserve the Act for the whole of the UK. Were the Government to recognise that human rights are not a reserved matter and that therefore there has to be a legislative consent motion, we in Scotland could help friends across the House by refusing legislative consent for the repeal of the Act, which would be one way of keeping it for the whole of the UK.
Our amendment 204 would give the Scottish Parliament the chance fully to implement a replacement for the Act in Scotland, were we to fail in our attempt to preserve it for the whole of the UK. The Government have said repeatedly that they do not recognise that human rights are a devolved matter—they say they are reserved—so we have to have a fall-back position in Scotland. I urge the Government—[Interruption.] They do not seem to be listening, but I urge them to remember their respect agenda and to return to the Scotland Act, with some decent lawyers, and look at it carefully. If they do, they will find that human rights are not a reserved matter but devolved. But they need not take my word for it; a sizeable body of academic opinion supports that assertion.
Our amendment recognises, when it comes to the proprieties of the devolution settlement, that the respect agenda, of which the Prime Minister has spoken so often, has been consigned to the dustbin of history, along with the assurance that Scotland is an equal partner in the Union and various other promises, including the vow, made by the Better Together parties during the independence referendum. As I have made clear, the SNP’s primary intention is to fight to retain the Human Rights Act for the whole of the UK, but the disrespect with which our previous amendments were met and the recent exclusion of all Scottish MPs from the Joint Committee on Human Rights gives me and my SNP colleagues no confidence that Parliament will respect the wishes of the Scottish electorate.
Just now, in response to my hon. and learned Friend’s point about our being excluded from the Joint Committee, Alberto Costa said, “Good.” Might she take an intervention from him so he can explain why the party that represents almost every constituency in Scotland should be excluded from that important Committee?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. I would be delighted to take that intervention. Will the hon. Gentleman, whom I believe is a lawyer of sorts, tell us and the people of Scotland why he thinks it acceptable for all Scottish MPs to be excluded from the Joint Committee?
It is important that we have sensible lawyers on the Committee. The hon. and learned Lady keeps stating that human rights are not a reserved matter, but they are a very obvious reserved matter. That is my point.
I am sure viewers in Scotland and everyone reading Hansard tomorrow will be interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks it acceptable to exclude every elected representative of the Scottish electorate from a Joint Committee whose purpose is to scrutinise Bills for human rights compliance across the UK.
The hon. Gentleman is probably equally delighted that there are six unelected donors and cronies from the House of Lords on that Committee, yet no place for any Scottish MP.
I am sure he is. The hon. Gentleman’s interventions and speech underline the reality of our concern that the wish of the Scottish electorate to preserve the Human Rights Act will not be respected. I reiterate that we want to make common cause with the Labour party, the Lib Dems, Northern Ireland Members and Government Members to preserve the Act for the whole of the UK.
I said “we”. Listen carefully. I know my accent is a bit difficult to follow, but I said “we”.
In conclusion, our primary intention is to preserve the Act for the whole of the UK, but the amendment would give us the option to implement the settled will of the Scottish people to keep the Act for Scotland, if we fail to keep it for the whole of the UK.
In the wake of Scotland’s referendum on independence last year, the Prime Minister set up the Smith commission to secure cross-party recommendations for the further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. With regard to the constitutional aspects of the report, the Smith commission recommended that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Government be established in statute, ensuring that devolution could not be abolished at the whim of a Westminster Government. Therefore, I sincerely welcome the UK Government’s latest U-turn on this issue. The provision should have been included at the inception of the Scotland Bill, but I welcome the Government’s coming round to our way of thinking—better late than never, some might say.
The Smith commission report also stated that the Sewel convention should be put on a statutory footing by the UK Government. Unfortunately, the UK Government’s proposals in this area fall far short of Smith, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to implement the commission’s proposals in full. Clause 2 of the Bill states that
“the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”
The Government’s current position on the matter is ridiculous and risks weakening, not strengthening the Sewel convention, and it is at odds with the Smith commission report. The Government’s vow that they will “not normally legislate” in devolved areas will simply not suffice and raises serious concerns that it will set a dangerous precedent.
Indeed, from my work on the Immigration Bill Committee, I can already see one instance where the UK Government’s Bill encroaches on devolved areas in Scotland. For example, immigration is of course a competence reserved for the UK Parliament, but housing is not: it is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Yet, as part of the Immigration Bill, the UK Government will introduce the right to rent. This is legislation that will compel landlords to establish a person’s legal status before they can offer a tenancy, introducing penalties for landlords who fail to comply. The UK Government’s “right to rent” provisions in the Immigration Bill will be extended to Scotland through secondary legislation without a legislative consent, or Sewel, motion being debated and passed by the Scottish Parliament. Furthermore, consultation with the Scottish Government on housing and with housing stakeholders in Scotland ahead of that Bill being introduced is said to have been rushed and extremely limited.
The Scottish Government are very concerned at this development and the Scottish housing Minister wrote to the Immigration Minister asking for a meeting on this very subject, only to be arrogantly rebuffed by him. In his reply, he said:
“The Right to Rent scheme and the new measures in the Immigration Bill relate to immigration control, which is not devolved”— so far correct—but then said:
“These measures restrict access to housing”.
We have already established that housing is very much a devolved issue. So much for the respect agenda, much lauded by the Prime Minister.
The SNP’s new clause 35, which would place the Sewel convention on a statutory footing, is pragmatic and would ensure that the Bill lived up to the Smith commission’s recommendations. The UK Government’s approach to policy making where there are wider implications for devolved areas can be ignorant and churlish. There is no better example of that than the Conservatives’ much trailed desire to abolish the Human Rights Act.
The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly compelling argument about legalising and codifying the Sewel convention. If he wishes to push new clause 35 to the vote in a few minutes’ time, we would be more than happy to support him and take this forward. Otherwise, I am afraid it will be down to the other place to deal with.
The Human Rights Act is vital to us in many ways. It gives us the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to liberty and security, freedom of thought, belief and religion, the right to private and family life, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and the right to free elections and education, to name a few. The Human Rights Act extends to all public authorities in Scotland—our schools, our local government, our NHS and our police. Amendment 204 would devolve responsibility for human rights to the Scottish Parliament, putting it beyond any doubt whatever, to help to safeguard human rights for those living in Scotland.
The potential abolition of the Human Rights Act will undoubtedly have profound implications for devolution in Scotland and across these islands. It would be an affront to democracy for the Conservative Government to use their slender majority in this House to abolish the Human Rights Acts when they do not command support in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Our new clause 35 would require the UK Government, regardless of political hue, to seek a legislative consent motion in all instances of Westminster legislation affecting areas devolved to Scotland, and would require the UK Government to consult with the Scottish Government on legislation that would have such an impact on Scotland.
The Tory Government—formed by a party to which the people of Scotland delivered a vote of no confidence at the last election; a party with only one MP in Scotland—have rejected every amendment put forward by the SNP Westminster group, a group that has 95% of Scotland’s MPs. That prompts the question: why are amendments to the Scotland Bill that are supported by an overwhelming majority of Scotland’s MPs ultimately rejected? The Conservatives—and, indeed, Labour—must stop ducking, diving and obfuscating when it comes to strengthening the Scotland Bill and must stop playing games with Scotland’s powers. The people of Scotland are watching. It is time they were listened to.
I rise to support new clause 36, which would give powers to Scotland over whether and when we hold a referendum. If it is right that there is mutual respect—we are told that there is—then the Scottish Parliament, elected by the Scottish people, has the right to determine its own destiny. The Secretary of State, and no doubt other Members, will be familiar with the words of Lord Cooper from 1953, when he stated that
“the principle of unlimited sovereignty of parliament is a distinctly English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law”.
In other words, it is the people of Scotland who are sovereign. We come to this House with a mandate from the people of Scotland and that ought to be respected. My message to those on the Government Benches is that they drove through English Votes for English Laws—
I always agree with my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond; the point is that it is the Scottish people who are ahead of this Parliament. We have to reflect on what is happening in this Bill. We were promised devo-max—as close to federalism as we could get; home rule in the spirit of Keir Hardie. It is this House and those on the Government Benches who are letting down the people of Scotland, and the people of Scotland will reflect upon that.
Despite what the Secretary of State says, the reality of the situation is that 70% of powers over taxation and 85% of powers over welfare will be held here at Westminster. I do not know what that is, but it is certainly not a powerhouse Parliament.
In the light of the challenges we face with the cuts to tax credits, which we will discuss in the second part of tonight’s debate, we need to make sure that the Scottish Parliament has the powers to protect the people of Scotland. We will be saying to the Labour party, “Come with us. Show that resolve,” to make sure that we can protect the people we need to in the country of Scotland.
If the hon. Gentleman is truly passionate about protecting the people of Scotland, he will no doubt get to his feet and tell this Chamber and the people of Scotland that he will restore to them any losses from tax credits, as the Scottish Labour party has committed itself to do.
The Scottish National party in power in Scotland over the last few years has sought to mitigate the cuts that have come from Westminster, with £100 million invested for the Scottish people to offset the impacts of the bedroom tax. We will fight to defend the interests of the Scottish people, as we always have done.
I would like to remind the House that, unlike the Labour party on the Benches next to us, we are not prepared to give up the fight on tax credits, which we will take to the very end. The measures have already been rejected by the Lords, but the Scottish Parliament is not a mitigating Chamber; it should be a legislative Chamber, and we will fight to ensure that cuts to tax credits are not inflicted on the vulnerable of this country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
This is also about our ethos, the kind of society we are and what we will strive to do, because in Scotland we believe not in welfare, but in social security—we believe in offering protection to people—but we also believe in the principle that society is as strong as its weakest link. That is a very different concept from what we have in this Parliament, with the cuts that are coming through and those we know will come in the autumn statement.
No, I am going to make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
So I say to those in this House: will they respect the sovereignty of the Scottish people, who sent us to this House, or will they ignore the express wishes of the Scottish people? Let me say to Government Members that they have been rejected wholesale at the ballot box in Scotland. They should think very carefully before exercising a veto, which to all intents and purposes will be an English veto against Scotland. Perhaps in that regard the question we should put to the Secretary of State is: is he Scotland’s man in the Cabinet or is he the Cabinet’s man in Scotland? The Secretary of State should do the honourable thing—accept our amendment and stand up for the people of Scotland. What is it to be?
And what about the Labour party, a party that once dominated the political landscape of Scotland? It is perhaps not yet extinct like the dodo, but more like a beached whale. Labour Members should show us that they want to protect Scotland. If they want to make a difference for Scotland, they should support our amendments tonight—or will they be siding with their colleagues in “Better Together”?
I want to make some progress.
Labour Members need to start learning the lesson that Scotland rejected them for a reason. They had better start to get on side with us and the people of Scotland. Tonight is a chance for the House to understand that Scotland expects powers for the Scottish Parliament to be delivered so that Scotland’s destiny can be put in Scotland’s hands. That will not happen by voting for a Bill that leaves us with a hand tied behind our backs while a Tory Government do their worst to the poor and disadvantaged in our society.
Our amendments allow us to deliver on the interests of our people. We need a Parliament that will allow us to stand up for the people of Scotland and recognise that the people are sovereign. Let me finish by quoting Charles Stewart Parnell:
“No man has the right to fix the boundary to a march of a nation. No man has the right to say thus far shalt thou go and no further.”
It is in that context that we need powers to determine in Scotland when and if we want to have a referendum. It is in that context that the House should listen to the elected Members of the people of Scotland.
The acid test of this Bill is whether it delivers on the vow and the recommendations of the Smith commission. Objectively, assuming that all the Government amendments are agreed, we believe that the Bill goes a long way to delivering on the Smith commission. That is not to say that the Government have delivered on absolutely everything. They clearly have not, and I have to say that it is a sad reflection on this Government that they have come to this point kicking and screaming. Since the beginning of the Smith commission’s report in November 2014, the Government have had a long and painful journey.
Nowhere is the Government’s change of heart more clear than in respect of Government new clause 12. It was constantly argued by Opposition Members in Committee that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government ought to be described as “a permanent part” of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. We argued that the phrase “recognised as permanent” was less than what was recommended by the Smith commission and that, as the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee correctly argued, the use of the phrase “recognised as permanent” had the effect of weakening the Smith recommendations. I am pleased that the Government have listened.
Some might think that this is all about constitutional navel-gazing, but it is an extremely important point that the Scottish Parliament be placed on a firm constitutional footing and that the sovereignty of the Parliament rests with the people of Scotland. I have, however, a question for the Secretary of State on the issue of the UK’s parliamentary sovereignty.
We all know that a classic theory of UK parliamentary sovereignty is stated in Dicey’s “Introduction to the Law of the Constitution”. According to this classic theory, Parliament can make a law on any subject it pleases, and there are no fundamental laws that restrict its powers. The Government’s new clause 12, I would suggest, is a departure from that theory, which I welcome. Does the Secretary of State agree that in passing new clause 12 we are making modest but significant constitutional history?
New clause 13 is about the functions exercised by Scottish Ministers in respect of elections. It is essentially technical, but on the issue of elections, I refer briefly to amendments 37 and 43. Of course, a vital part of any democracy is free and open elections, and we support Government new clause 13 and Government amendments 35 to 43. I am glad that the Government have recognised the need to devolve some of the responsibilities of the Electoral Commission. It is surely only appropriate that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 is amended so that the functions of the Electoral Commission are devolved for elections to the Scottish Parliament.
I note that the Government have introduced the significant amendment 43, which deals with the so-called “Digital Service”. As I understand it, this relates to the ability to register online to vote. Given the introduction of individual elector registration, this is very important. I ask the Minister for clarification on two points. First, although there is reference in the Bill to Scottish Ministers making regulations subject to the negative procedure, it is repeated in amendment 43, so I would appreciate it if the Government could explain what exactly this negative procedure is and how it will work?
Secondly, with regard to the online registration system, could there be confusion about which electors are able to vote in which elections? The Scottish Parliament has rightly decided to introduce votes for 16 and 17-year-olds at all Scottish elections, but these individuals will be denied the vote in Westminster elections. Is there not a danger of widespread confusion, particularly if the online registration technology is being used for both Westminster and Scottish elections?
If I am pleased that the Government have listened to the debate, particularly as far as new clause 12 is concerned, I am disappointed that they have not brought forward an amendment on the Sewel convention and its workings. We argued in Committee, as did SNP Members, that we were concerned about the narrow interpretation of the Sewel convention, which concerned the more general devolved competence. Moreover, there is the imprecision of the word “normally”. As I said in the Committee of the whole House:
“How long is a piece of string?”—[Hansard, 15 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 99.]
The word “normally” is legally imprecise, which is why amendments 7, 8, 9 and 10, to remove the offending word, were tabled by Mr Carmichael, who sadly cannot be with us today.
New clause 35, tabled by Angus Robertson, seeks to place the Sewel convention on a statutory footing. This was, of course, recommended by the Smith commission, and we are happy to support the new clause, if it is pressed to a vote. However, if we are supporting new clause 35, we are certainly not supporting new clause 36, also tabled by the right hon. Member for Moray. It deals with future referendums on Scottish independence. I note that in the right hon. Gentleman’s statement to the press over the weekend, he said:
“Whether or not Scotland has a referendum in the future should be up to the people—and in the hands of the Scottish Parliament—rather than the UK Government.”
Paragraph 18 of the Smith commission report states:
“It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.”
If the people of Scotland do not have the power to choose, how is that provision to stand the test of time?
I may be mistaken, but I thought the Scottish people had made a decision—a very firm and clear-cut decision. If there is a move towards having a referendum in the future—
On the history of this issue, the referendum happened in September, and the Smith commission from which I have directly quoted, happened after that. All the parties decided that nothing should prevent Scotland from becoming independent, should the people so wish—yet that is exactly what these provisions are trying to do.
No one is seeking to deny the people of Scotland anything. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that a prominent member of the SNP said that the result was gold-plated, and that the Scottish Parliament has the power at present to have a referendum. The amendment seeks to take away the caveats that are based on discussion and all the more reasonable for that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this obsession with organising another referendum proves the central point made by me and others in this afternoon’s debate—that the SNP is much more interested in breaking up Britain than in getting on and delivering for the people of Scotland by improving the health service, improving education and providing the homes that the people of Scotland need?
I could not agree more. In my book, devolution is not about divorce, separation or schism. It is not about balkanising Britain. It is about establishing a new partnership, so that the people of Britain can work together in a constructive and harmonious way.
What the amendment seeks to do is take away caveats that are essential in defining the partnership and the harmonious discussions that must take place. It is not simply a question of the Scottish Parliament deciding by itself what it wants to do.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so gracious with his time. This is a very important point, because it comes down to the issue of whether the Scottish people, in electing a Government who want to have a referendum on independence, have the power to do so. If the House does not accept our amendment, that power will reside with Westminster, and not with the Scottish people or the Scottish Parliament. It has nothing to do with caveats.
I think that the obsession with having a referendum at all costs is very sad for the people of Scotland.
No. I have given way four times already.
Sometimes SNP Members have to be told, and I am telling them now. The situation is as I have described it. We are not prepared to have a referendum, and we are not prepared to allow a constitutional debate to be hijacked by the referendum issue in an attempt to manoeuvre the situation and bring about a break-up of the United Kingdom. That is not what devolution is all about, and it is not what the Smith commission was all about. The Smith commission was all about people working together.
Several hon. Members rose—
I want to make a bit of progress now.
The fact is that these are not dry constitutional issues, but issues that have an impact on everyday life, as is shown clearly by what is happening in Scotland in connection with the Trade Union Bill. Under the Sewel convention, a legislative consent motion is necessary for Westminster legislation to secure the consent of the Scottish Parliament if it is to apply in Scotland in a devolved area. According to a strict legal interpretation, this Bill seeks to amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and therefore, it is argued, does not encroach on areas of devolved competence. In practical terms, however, it will encroach very much on areas of devolved competence by imposing requirements on local authorities in Scotland.
We believe it is wrong that the UK Government are able to legislate for devolved authorities in this way. That is why all Labour-led councils in Scotland—and one led by the SNP— have agreed to a stance of non-compliance. The Westminster Government have not sought a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament, but Labour will present such a motion in order to deny the Bill competence over Scotland’s devolved services.
I have mentioned local authorities. New clauses 7, 8 and 9, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Allen, make the point that true supporters of devolution believe that power should reside at the most appropriate level, as close to the people as possible. They recognise that there is a very real issue in Scotland, namely that, in the view of many, the Scottish Government are more concerned about exercising power itself than about empowering people in their local communities. Members of the SNP claim to be good Europeans, but I am afraid they show little practical support for the adoption of the European principle of bringing power closer to the people. They have a chance to put that right tonight.
As was noted when we discussed it in a Committee of the whole House, part 2 of the Bill devolves significant new powers to Scotland in relation to income tax and other taxes. The Scottish Parliament will have control over income tax rates and thresholds, and complete freedom when it comes to the levels at which those rates and thresholds are set. That is significant, as the estimated devolved income tax liabilities in 2013-14 amounted to nearly £11 billion. The collection and deployment of such a considerable sum confers—rightly—a substantial degree of responsibility on the Scottish Parliament. If they wish, a Scottish Government, whatever their political complexion, can increase or decrease that liability.
Scottish Labour has already set out how we would use those new powers. We would reset the additional rate to 50p, so that those who earn over £150,000 a year would contribute a little more, as I think most fair-minded individuals would agree they can afford to do. We would not implement the Government’s plans to increase the higher-rate threshold, but we would use the money raised from not doing so—estimated to be over £400 million—to help to mitigate, in full, the impact of the Government’s work penalty: that is, the tax credit cuts. That decision will benefit a quarter of a million Scottish families who, thanks to the Government, must currently pay an average of £1,300 a year. It is an example of what can be done with new powers if we have the courage and conviction, and the political will, to use them correctly.
Labour Members support these powers. It will therefore come as no surprise that we remain utterly unconvinced by, and opposed to, the SNP’s amendment 224, which would go beyond the Smith commission and enable the Scottish Parliament to remove reservations on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure.
Over the past few months, we have learnt how confused members of the SNP are about the issue of fiscal devolution, or autonomy. The depth of their confusion was shown clearly in Committee, when I asked their economic spokesman whether a future SNP Government would increase or reduce corporation tax. The response to that perfectly reasonable question was
“Yes, a future SNP Government would increase it, decrease it, keep it the same and use the amount raised in an intelligent way.”—[Hansard, 15 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 56.]
In other words, SNP Members are totally and utterly confused. They are interested in taxation power for the sake of it, rather than being interested in what they want to do with it. They have not thought this out, and they do not have a clue about it.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to his own new clause 1. Do I take it that because the Labour party wants an independent commission to examine the issue of full fiscal autonomy, it is increasingly open minded about the issue, and does the hon. Gentleman think that that would be one route towards getting rid of the grievance mentality among those in Scotland? If they had to take full responsibility for their decisions, it would be very difficult for them to blame a United Kingdom settlement.
We believe that the facts should be allowed to speak for themselves. In our view, the case has not been made and cannot be made, but what we want to see is a transparent, independent body that will reach that conclusion, and we are confident that it will do so. That is why we support the proposal for an independent commission.
He did that for his own reasons, and for different reasons. What was obvious to me, and very telling, was the fact that the Tory right and the Scottish nationalists were at one. Representatives of English nationalism and Scottish nationalism went through the Lobby together in their hordes: the nationalists and the extreme right! That says it all, does it not?
I know that my hon. Friend, like me, is a student of history. He will know of the test set by that great socialist R.H. Tawney, who said of political institutions, “It is not about paragraphs in a constitution; it is about the practical effect that the institutions make.” Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful to know from SNP Members what, practically, they intend to do with their new powers?
Yes, indeed. They are very strong on rhetoric, as we have heard this afternoon. They have had strong election results, but I suspect that that will apply for much longer, because the Scottish people will rumble them when they dig beneath the rhetoric and find that there is very little substance there.
Could it just be that the Tory right, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, and the present Labour shadow Chancellor both recognise that the one way to defeat nationalism is to have a real Parliament in Scotland with full power over what it taxes and spends and that at that stage the SNP will have to take responsibility for its own actions? It will become a grown-up political party and we will start to defeat it in Scotland.
One of the key reasons why we are broadly in support of what the Government are belatedly proposing is that we believe it will give new responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament to try to achieve substantial things on behalf of the Scottish people. I think there is a case to say that responsibility and power go together, and that is why these measures are a step forward.
A moment ago my hon. Friend expressed surprise that the SNP and the Tory right were voting together on full fiscal autonomy, but I am bemused about why he is surprised given that it was the SNP who brought down the Labour Government in the 1970s and ushered in 18 years of—[Interruption.] I do not know what Ms Ahmed-Sheikh is shouting for, given that she was until very recently a Tory herself. They ushered in 18 years of Thatcherism and all the problems about which they are now whingeing. [Interruption.]
All I would say is that it is quite clear that the truth hurts sometimes, does it not? They have been rumbled absolutely [Interruption.] Absolutely.
I will make a little progress in a slightly more sedate manner, if I may. Reference has been made our new clause 1, which would establish an independent commission on full fiscal autonomy to scrutinise the potential impact on Scotland’s economy and public finances. It would require the Secretary of State for Scotland to establish an independent commission of external experts, appointed in consultation with the Treasury Committee and Scottish Affairs Committee, to publish a report by
VAT is another important issue. Our amendments 27 to 29 would place an additional £5 billion of reserves under the direct control of the Scottish Parliament by assigning 100% of Scottish revenues from the standard and reduced rate of VAT to the Scottish Parliament, as opposed to 50%, for which the Bill currently allows. Of course, under EU regulations, which do not allow for differential rates of VAT in the same state, the actual setting of VAT would have to remain reserved. However, this is not an argument against assigning the revenues generated in Scotland to the Scottish Consolidated Fund. As was said on Report, given that the Scottish Government would have
“no control over VAT, why assign only half of it? Why not assign it all? The Scottish Government could then quite rightly benefit, if there was a benefit, from the entire rise in VAT in Scotland rather than just half of it and could take responsibility if there was a shortfall, not just for half the shortfall.”—[Hansard, 29 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1256.]
It was said that that would be a good thing. Those were not my comments, or indeed the comments of another Member of the Opposition; they were the comments of Stewart Hosie, who also happens to be the SNP’s spokesperson on the economy. Oddly, given his full-blooded support for devolving 100% of VAT, the SNP has not actually got round to tabling an amendment that would produce this effect, and when the Labour party tabled an amendment proposing that, did the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues welcome it? No, they did not. Instead, they issued a press release in which the hon. Gentleman himself denounced it as a “gimmick”. Well, I do not think it is a gimmick and I am sure the people of Scotland do not think so either.
New clause 4 would review the impact of the new income tax powers on the operation of gift aid in Scotland to guard against unintended and negative consequences for charities. Gift aid is worth over £1 billion a year to charities and over £100 million in Scotland. Any threat to its smooth operation must, therefore, be closely guarded against. The problem that Labour’s new clauses seek to address is that gift aid is UK wide, linked to tax paid, and predicated on a single tax structure. I would welcome in the Secretary of State’s response any assurances he can provide to charities in Scotland on the issue of gift aid.
New clause 11 would require the Secretary of State to lay before the House of Commons a full record, including minutes of meetings and correspondence at ministerial level, of discussions between the Secretary of State, the Treasury and Scottish Ministers relating to the non-budget expenditure to be voted by Parliament authorising the payment of grants to the Scottish Consolidated Fund for that financial year. We would of course be happy to work in partnership with the Scottish Parliament on such a report, although it is similarly in the gift of the Scottish Government to produce their own report, and I hope that they would share it with us as well. We would thereby have regular updates on the health of these negotiations, which currently take place to a large extent behind closed doors. The purpose of this new clause is to ensure transparency and accountability in the process leading to the annual settlement between the Treasury and Scottish Ministers of the block grant to the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
It is worth noting that the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee produced a report on intergovernmental relations in late June. It makes for interesting and important reading. It is generally critical of the state of intergovernmental relations, which are described as taking place “below the radar.” It is said that relations should be made
“more formal and more transparent.”
The Committee also recommended that consideration should be given to establishing an independent body to advise on the calculation of the block grant and to establishing an independent arbiter to resolve disputes on issues such as the block grant adjustment. The Labour party would certainly support any such moves to that effect, and it is in the interests of introducing greater accountability, transparency and formality to these negotiations that our new clause 11 has been tabled.
I am grateful for being allowed to speak in some detail about some of the amendments, but they are important; these are important issues. I hope that the House will give sympathetic consideration to the points I have made this evening.
I think that during at least part of this debate some of the amendments tabled by both the Government and Opposition Members have been addressed and I am very pleased—unless I have picked this up wrongly in the course of the debate—that no one is suggesting they would wish to oppose the Government’s amendments.
I am afraid that today’s debate on full fiscal autonomy has, for me, been an unwelcome case of déjà vu, and I am afraid that even includes the contribution of my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. It would certainly be unwelcome to the people of Scotland if this proposal ever came to pass. It will come as no surprise to the House that the Government will not accept the SNP amendment relating to full fiscal autonomy. This Government are clear: it is not in the interests of the people of Scotland.
We do not need a commission either, because the analysis has been done. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that full fiscal autonomy would mean Scotland having almost £10 billion less to spend by the last year of this Parliament. That is not a good deal for Scotland and this Government will not support it.
Ironically, what gives us a real, and cruel, sense of déjà vu is that despite barely a dozen Conservative Members having been present during this debate to listen to the concerns of the people of Scotland, the Tories will march through the Lobby denying the people of Scotland what they want.
There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the people of Scotland want full fiscal autonomy. The people of Scotland voted in a referendum—I know that is an inconvenience for the SNP on the road to independence—and voted decisively to remain within the United Kingdom.
Several hon. Members rose—
I need to deal with the specific issues that have been raised, including gift aid. I commend Ian Murray for pursuing this issue, because it is important to the charitable sector. It came up when I addressed the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations recently. I can confirm that the UK Government remain committed to working with the charity sector to ensure that gift aid works effectively for charities and their donors. This is something that we already do, and something that we will continue to do. We consulted the charity sector fully in advance of agreeing the arrangements for the continued operation of gift aid under the Scottish rate of income tax, which will come into effect in April 2016. Similarly, we are fully committed to consulting the charity sector, in Scotland and the rest of the UK, ahead of agreeing arrangements for the continued operation of gift aid under the devolution of income tax powers as proposed by the Bill.
The Government are fully committed to an ongoing dialogue with the charity sector before and after the enactment of the Bill to ensure that gift aid continues to operate effectively. It is our objective to maximise the amount of gift aid claimed on eligible donations. I hope that, on the basis of those reassurances, the hon. Gentleman will not press his new clause to a vote.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.
I also thank Tommy Sheppard. I usually disagree fundamentally with his contributions, but I always enjoy them. I also commend him on winning the new MP of the year award from The Spectator. He and Gavin Newlands touched on the Sewel convention—the legislative consent motion procedure in the Scottish Parliament. I am afraid that I do not agree with their proposals. The Sewel convention has been set out in the Bill, as required by the Smith commission.
I want to respond to all the points raised on the new clauses and amendments if I can.
Mr Allen has put forward various suggestions on local government. On the one hand, I agree with the SNP that it is a matter for the Scottish Parliament to determine the nature of local government in Scotland. On the other hand, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that as many matters as possible in Scotland should be devolved locally. Indeed, that was one of Lord Smith’s proposals for the Bill.
On the question of permanence, I am glad that the current proposal, which I had previously shared with the Scottish Government and the Devolved Powers Committee, meets everyone’s aspirations. In response to Wayne David, this is an important proposal which demonstrates what the people of Scotland have clearly indicated they wish to see in the legislation. I am also pleased that the proposals relating to elections have been relatively uncontentious, as were the measures relating to a super-majority. I therefore hope that the amendments to those measures will not be pressed to a vote.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with Labour’s proposal for the full amount of VAT raised in Scotland to be assigned to Scotland. It was a key part of the Smith agreement that half the VAT revenue should be so assigned, in order to ensure a stable balance between encouraging Scotland’s economy to grow and insulating the Scottish Government’s budget from UK-wide economic shocks. I hope that the relevant amendment will therefore not be pressed to a vote.
The question of human rights was raised by Joanna Cherry. I have found her previous contributions to this Parliament to be based on fact and not on politics, so it will not surprise her to learn that I was disappointed with her contribution this evening. This is an important issue. The House will be aware that we have outlined our proposal to reform and modernise our human rights framework by replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. Of course I am very aware of the possible devolution implications of reform, and we will engage with the devolved Administrations as we develop these proposals. We spoke about this matter in Committee, and the Government’s view has not changed.
The Government are working on proposals for the reform of the human rights framework, and we will bring forward those proposals in due course, in consultation with the devolved Administrations.
The fiscal framework has also been discussed today. I want to put on record the fact that I am absolutely confident that John Swinney, negotiating on behalf of the Scottish Government, will be able to get a good deal for them. I have that confidence in Mr Swinney, and I know that he and the UK Government are absolutely committed to achieving that objective. We have had a number of detailed discussions on the fiscal framework, and we agreed at the start that we would not provide a running commentary on those negotiations. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. However, there is no suggestion that agreement cannot be reached, and it will be an agreement that is fair for Scotland and fair for the rest of the United Kingdom. I look forward to Members of this House and of the Scottish Parliament being able to properly scrutinise that agreement.
Will my right hon. Friend deal briefly with amendment 224, which has been tabled by the SNP? According to its accompanying explanatory statement, instead of asking the House to impose full fiscal autonomy, the Scottish Parliament
“could then legislate in these areas to provide for full fiscal autonomy in Scotland.”
In other words, SNP Members do not actually want full fiscal autonomy yet. They are like St Augustine: they want to stop sinning, but not quite yet. I think we should call their bluff on this one.
Throughout the course of these debates it has been clear that the strongest advocate of full fiscal devolution in this House is my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. He is willing to put his money where his mouth is. I am not willing to put the livelihoods of people in Scotland on the line just to demonstrate that some scheme would not work.
I want to deal with new clause 36, which is an important proposal—at least the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues suggest it is. In September 2014, the people of Scotland voted decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom, and to retain our two Parliaments and two Governments. The SNP reassured us repeatedly in advance of the referendum that it would be a once-in-a-generation or once-in-a-lifetime event. The First Minister herself signed the Edinburgh agreement, which committed both of Scotland’s Governments to respect the outcome of the independence referendum. However much the SNP might dislike the fact, the 2 million people in Scotland who voted no voted to keep our United Kingdom. Their votes should be respected and not set aside as an unfortunate setback on the road to independence. Most people in Scotland support our place in the United Kingdom and do not want a second referendum—that is a fact that the SNP cannot face up to.
This new clause is a distraction from the real powers contained in this Bill. The Bill gives the Scottish Parliament significant new powers, with the strength of the United Kingdom. The SNP needs to tell us how it intends to use those powers for the benefit of the people of Scotland. I will therefore not be supporting new clause 36 and am again proposing that people support my amendments.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 12 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.