I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House regrets the non-appearance of any Government amendments to Clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill despite the announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the Government intended to table them for Report Stage and declines to give a Third Reading to the Bill because it is not fit for purpose as it undermines the fundamental principles of the Scotland Act 1998 by reserving to the UK Parliament powers that would otherwise be devolved to the Scottish Parliament on the UK leaving the European Union.”
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the way you have made sure that these proceedings have been conducted in an admirable manner over the past few weeks, and I thank all those who have contributed. I have to thank the Secretary of State for the courteous way he has always behaved in his dealings with us in this Chamber and of course elsewhere—we do not take that for granted.
It grieves me to have to move the SNP’s reasoned amendment that would decline the Bill a Third Reading because I would like to be in a situation in which we were not doing so. Over the past five months, we have seen the Government ducking and diving any responsibility for the legal and constitutional make-up of the UK by railroading through Parliament a car-crash plan to leave the EU.
The Secretary of State for Scotland should be ashamed of himself. First, he promised the people of Scotland that the Bill would result in a powers bonanza; then he slapped us with clause 11—the now famous power-grab element of the legislation—the extent of which is not only staggering but an absolute constitutional outrage. Even Paul Masterton, who is in his place, has been clear, noting in this House that
“clause 11…is not fit for purpose”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 632, c. 731.]
In 1997, the people of Scotland voted for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament. Clause 11 represents a massive power grab that undermines the very principles on which the Scottish Parliament was established. The Scottish Government have published a list of 111 powers that are at risk from the clause, and just last week the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee agreed unanimously not to recommend that the Scottish Parliament give legislative consent to the Bill. The Committee found clause 11 to be incompatible with devolution.
The Secretary of State for Scotland himself admitted that the Bill needed to be amended, which brings me to the latest insult that the Government have afforded to all the people of Scotland. In December, the Secretary of State promised that the Government would table amendments to clause 11 on Report. Report has obviously passed and not one single promised Government amendment was tabled to clause 11. Statements and promises made at the Dispatch Box cannot be sidestepped or ignored. The failure to deliver on commitments made at the Dispatch Box undermines the integrity of political office and undermines our democracy, never mind the democratic rights of the devolved institutions that we are seeking to protect. I am not talking about some abstract principle; I am talking about the rights hard won and delivered with, for example, the passing of the Scotland Act 1998, which brought in devolution. It is an insult to the people of Scotland, who are growing weary of a Conservative Government who promise everything and deliver nothing.
Last night, we saw the Scottish Tories traipse through the Lobby under the command of their London leader. They are just Lobby fodder here. How will they explain themselves to their branch manager in Holyrood? The Bill will carry on to the House of Lords. It is almost as if the Government are now acting as the independence movement for Scotland. The arrogance of those who think that the introduction of amendments on the legislative competence of the democratically elected Scottish Parliament can be implemented by unelected peers is an affront to democracy.
I echo some of the fundamental concerns about other parts of the Bill that only compound our opposition to it. There have been some dignified and honourable speeches from Members during the Bill’s journey so far, but the Government’s approach to the Bill and their attitude in respect of clause 11 is simply not good enough. A wise man once said that having a majority of seats did not mean having a monopoly on wisdom. I call on the Prime Minister to heed that advice. The Bill needs to be changed fundamentally, and the Government need to adopt a new approach fast, or they will trigger a constitutional crisis of their own making.
Conservatives should remember that their standing in face of demands for the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament contributed to the wipeout of Conservative MPs from Scotland in 1997. What happened yesterday was a failure of the Government and Scottish Tory MPs to defend our national interests and those of their own constituents. History is repeating itself. What are the Scottish Tories here for? Will they join us in standing up for Scotland’s interests? Tonight, by supporting our reasoned amendment, Parliament has the opportunity to remove itself from encroaching on the devolution settlement. Members of this House have the opportunity to protect the constitutional rights of devolved Administrations. We cannot allow the responsibility for digging the Government out of their task in this House to be taken by the House of Lords.
In conclusion—[Interruption.] The Tories can cheer, but the fact remains that the people of Scotland will be watching and will be aware of the fact that the Scottish Parliament has been stripped of its rights. In declining a Third Reading this evening, we send a clear signal to the Government that this House cannot allow the commitments made and broken to pass. It is the last chance for Scottish Tory MPs to join us and to stand up for the devolved settlement. It is for the people of Scotland to determine their constitutional future. We cannot pass that power to the unelected House of Lords. The irony that the Lords, not the Commons, has the responsibility for protecting Scotland’s interests will not be lost on people. I say to the Scottish Tory MPs that they should join us in the Lobby tonight or ultimately pay the price. Scotland is watching.