With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the operation of the Sewel convention and its application to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in relation to Scotland. These are serious times and serious issues. I have come to the House today with respect and ready for constructive debate, and I hope that that is the spirit in all parts of the House.
“would not normally legislate…without the consent of the Scottish parliament”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 592, c. 791.]
Throughout the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to the Sewel convention and the principles that underpin our constitution. We have followed the spirit and letter of the devolution settlement at every stage.
The Bill is about ensuring that the whole of the United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on exit day, and about providing legal certainty for businesses and individuals throughout the country. From the outset, we have been clear about the fact that as a result of the UK’s exit, we would expect to see a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved institutions. We have been clear about the fact that exit would provide an opportunity to bring powers home from Brussels, not just to the UK Parliament but to all the legislatures of the United Kingdom. We must remember that the powers in question were handed to the European Union through our membership in 1972, long before devolution existed in Scotland. Exit was neither anticipated nor provided for in the Scotland Act 1998 and the structure of the devolution settlement. So it is clearly fair to say—as Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s own Brexit Minister, has said—that
“these are not normal times”.
Nevertheless, we have sought to respect the devolution settlements at every turn, and have recognised the strength of feeling across this House, as well as within the devolved Administrations, that the original measures in the Bill did not meet aspirations. No one could deny that the Government have come a long way from that original position. Discussions have been conducted at multilateral level through the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiation) and the Joint Ministerial Committee (Plenary), chaired by the Prime Minister, and bilaterally between Administrations, and with extensive official-level engagement, and we have made significant changes to the Bill.
Those changes enabled the Welsh Labour Government to support the agreement, and gained the approval of both the other place and this House, and those changes have turned the original clause on its head. Now, all decision-making powers returning from the EU that intersect with devolved competence will pass directly to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast unless explicit steps are taken to temporarily preserve an existing EU framework.
The inter-governmental agreement underpinning the new clause set out how those steps should be taken, with an emphasis on collaboration and agreement. Together, this means we are emphatically delivering on our commitment to give significant further powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The new clause also provides that in certain, limited cases the current arrangements we have under the EU will remain until we have implemented our new UK-wide frameworks. I want to stress that we have already agreed with the Scottish and Welsh Governments where this temporary preservation needs to be considered; the Governments are agreed that “freezing” is likely in just 24 of the 153 areas of powers returning to the UK from the EU. And to anyone who has sought to present this as seeking to take back powers from the Scottish Parliament, I repeat here that this Bill includes a specific provision that makes it clear explicitly that no decision-making powers currently exercised by the Scottish Parliament can be taken away.
These amendments strike the right balance between ensuring that exit results in increased decision-making powers for the devolved legislatures while continuing to provide certainty about how our laws will operate and protect our UK internal market, a market so vital to Scotland’s businesses. These amendments do not, and cannot, go as far as the Scottish Government want, because the Scottish Government want a veto over arrangements that will apply to the whole of the UK. But as Lord Wallace, the former Deputy First Minister of Scotland, set out when the Bill was being debated in the other place, this was not part of the original devolution settlement.
Our approach also helps to ensure the continued integrity of the UK market, which is so vital to the people and businesses of Scotland. At every stage, the SNP has disregarded the need to preserve this market and to ensure that there are no new barriers to working or doing business in the UK. The UK internal market is worth over four times more to businesses in Scotland than EU trade, and we must make sure that it is preserved as we leave the EU.
We have reached a point now where, as the Welsh Labour Government have clearly stated, these arrangements reflect and respect how the devolution settlements operate. The devolved legislatures will have a formal role in considering where existing frameworks need to be temporarily preserved. That is what we have delivered. However, Scotland has two democratically elected Parliaments, and it is only this Parliament, the UK Parliament, that can speak for the UK as a whole.
It is deeply regrettable that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Scottish Government were unable to sign up to the compromise solution brokered by officials from all the Administrations working together. But, as we all know, we can only reach agreement in a negotiation if both sides actually want to reach agreement. The Scottish Government’s position from the outset was that they would be content with nothing less than a veto. However, such an unreasonable position would fundamentally undermine the integrity of the UK internal market. That would harm business in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Despite the numerous attempts to find compromise, and the fact that one was reached with the Welsh Labour Government, the SNP position has not changed. As a result, this Government, who represent the whole of the UK, could not responsibly accept its position.
We are now therefore faced with the reality that the Scottish Parliament has not given consent for this critically important legislation that provides certainty across the UK. That is not a situation that any of us would have chosen. It is not, however, a crisis, nor is it unforeseen. While the devolution settlements did not predict EU exit, they did explicitly provide that in situations of disagreement the UK Parliament may be required to legislate without the consent of devolved legislatures.
In any situation, agreement is our aim, and we will continue to seek legislative consent, take on board views and work with the Scottish Government on future legislation, just as we always have done. We on this side of the House have compromised. We have made every effort to reach agreement. We have sought consent. Now we are legislating in line with the Sewel convention to ensure the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the EU with as much legal certainty as possible. That is what people and businesses in Scotland need.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
On Tuesday, we had a situation where the Secretary of State for Scotland allowed his Government to ride roughshod over the wishes of the Scottish Parliament within the space of around 20 minutes. From where I stand, the Secretary of State has done nothing about the programme motion that we opposed, meaning that he was entirely complicit in the shambles we all witnessed on Tuesday night meaning that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members were entirely shut out of the debate.
The Labour party opposed this week’s programme motion for a whole host of reasons, one of which was the lack of time to discuss devolution. The Labour party forced the Government to have two days of debate on the withdrawal Bill, rather than the original 12 hours. In stark contrast, the Secretary of State voted for the programme motion and voted for Scotland’s voice to be silenced. And to blame this on the Opposition for voting on the Lords amendments is as ludicrous as it is misleading.
What happened this week is completely and utterly unacceptable. We have seen shabby and deplorable antics from the Tories when it comes to the time allowed for debate, and we have seen counterproductive antics from the SNP yesterday that further curtailed debate. The people of Scotland deserve better, and they simply want this mess fixed by the politicians they sent here to stand up for them before this shambles ends up in court.
As John Smith said back when he was creating the Scottish Parliament, there are two people sawing away at the legs that support the Union: one is the Scottish National party, which of course wants to destroy the unity that is the United Kingdom, but the other is the reckless Conservative party, which stubbornly clings to an unsustainable position and refuses to even debate, never mind seek any compromise or consensus, on these most critical matters that the future of our nation relies upon.
The Secretary of State was responsible for taking the Scotland Act 2016 through this place, he was responsible for inserting the Sewel convention into the legislation, and now he is the person responsible for trampling all over that convention that underpins the devolution settlement. The Labour party tabled amendments to clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill at every stage. The Secretary of State and his colleagues voted them down every time. These amendments would have ensured that the Joint Ministerial Committee had to report to this place and to publish the minutes of its meetings. That would have allowed people in Scotland to see exactly what has been going on behind closed doors. The Secretary of State voted that down. We proposed amendments that would have ensured that any common UK frameworks—frameworks that his Government seem to value so much—would not be forced upon the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State voted that down. We proposed amendments that would have ensured that the Scottish Parliament had to give its consent unless the matter related to international obligations, which the Secretary of State will know is entirely in line with the Scotland Act. Yet rather than allow us to even just debate that amendment, the Secretary of State allowed Scotland’s voice to be shut out of the debate entirely.
The Secretary of State promised that he would fix the mess that his Government created, yet he has done absolutely nothing; he is Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet. The leader of Scottish Labour and the shadow Secretary of State have both written repeatedly to the deputy Prime Minister asking for cross-party talks to find a solution. So far, those requests have been denied. One really does have to wonder whether the UK Government and the Scottish Government actually have any intention whatsoever of sorting this out for the people of Scotland. So I ask the Secretary of State: will he, here and now, accept the offer of a cross-party meeting to resolve this and uphold the devolution settlement?
Clause 22 of the EU withdrawal Bill allows for consequential amendments to be made, where it is appropriate. Has the Secretary of State explored that avenue and is he open to consequential amendments under that clause if a deal is struck between the UK and Scottish Governments? Can the Secretary of State tell the House what mechanisms are available to Members to debate the issue, given that there was no debate at all this week? Will he now agree to publish the minutes of all meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee that pertain to the EU negotiations? Does he have any regrets about how this situation has been perceived in Scotland? Finally, if there is no agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments, will he resign, because it is very clear that he does not have the confidence, leadership or ability to fix this matter of critical importance to the future of our country?
I do have one regret, and that is that the once-proud Scottish Labour Unionist party has moved on to this nationalist territory. It was a real disappointment that Labour MSPs were willing to go along with everything proposed by Nicola Sturgeon. That is something to be regretted. When it comes to interpreting the devolution settlement, I am not going to rely on Mr Sweeney. I am going to rely on people such as John Smith, who was responsible for bringing it about, and on others who are now in the other place representing the Labour party and who accepted these proposals and amendments. They include Lord Jim Wallace, the former Deputy First Minister of Scotland, who stated clearly that the proposals did not in any way undermine the devolution settlement. And are the comments of the hon. Gentleman’s Welsh colleague, the prospective First Minister of Wales, to be rubbished and dismissed? He stated that the amended Bill and the intergovernmental agreement did the things that they set out to do, in that they safeguarded devolution and the future of a successful United Kingdom. I do hope that the Scottish Labour party still wants a successful United Kingdom.
I should just like to point out that I do not need a script; I make my own notes. My right hon. Friend said in his statement that the Sewel convention stated that this Parliament would not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. However, Mike Russell, Scotland’s own Brexit Minister, stated that these were not normal times, when he introduced the illegal continuity Bill in the Scottish Parliament. So either the fast-tracking of the continuity Bill was unnecessary, or the Sewel convention does not apply. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that the SNP should get its toys back in the pram and get back around the table?
In case this should arise in future questions, I do not intend to comment on references to the Supreme Court as that matter is ongoing. I agree with my hon. Friend’s final point, however. It is vital that the Scottish Government and the UK Government should continue to work together, and I have been perturbed over the past 48 hours by the veiled threats from the Scottish Government that they would somehow withdraw from such discussions. These discussions are vitally important, and the people of Scotland expect their two Governments to work together. Negotiations are taking place at the moment between my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and her counterpart in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. That is the sort of engagement that people want to see: the transfer of powers from this Parliament in relation to welfare and engagement with the Scottish Government as to how that is successfully done.
I have to say to the Secretary of State for Scotland: is that all you’ve got? Is that the best you can do? These are serious times for Scotland. I thank him for giving me advance sight of his statement, but I am deeply disappointed by its content. My very quick take on the statement is that it offers a wholly new interpretation—and, indeed, inversion—of the constitutional arrangements. Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 confirms that Westminster retains its unlimited sovereignty, and arguably it can never relinquish that, but the devolution settlement provides through the Sewel convention that the legislative power will not be used if there is disagreement and the devolved legislatures do not give consent. Today’s statement effectively turns Sewel on its head by saying that, if there is disagreement—that is, no consent on a legislative consent motion—the UK Government can proceed to legislate. This is an extremely serious development in UK Government thinking, and it risks the security of the devolution settlement. It also gives the lie to the assertion in the statement that the UK Government are
“legislating in line with the Sewel convention”.
By their own admission in this statement, they are doing the opposite. Perhaps the Secretary of State can give us some clarity on what is happening here.
The Sewel convention is clear that the UK Government should not legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. However, the Scottish Parliament—not the Scottish Government—has denied its consent. The Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all said that they did not give their consent to what the UK Government were seeking to do, yet the Secretary of State comes before us today with excuses and attempting to save his own skin, knowing that he has totally shafted Scotland and the people of Scotland. Empty excuses are clearly all he has, having utterly failed in his role as Secretary of State to protect our devolution settlement or to stand up for Scotland as he should be doing.
The Secretary of State promised that Scotland’s Parliament would become the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Wrong. He promised us, in the Commons stages, that when the Bill came back from the Lords, there would be time to debate clause 11. Wrong. He told us that there would be a powers bonanza for the Scottish Parliament. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] Even in June 2016, he pledged to protect Scotland’s place in the single market. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] The Secretary of State has—[Laughter.]
Order. Ian Blackford must be able to complete his contribution—
Yes, really! [Interruption.] What was that? Somebody chuntered from a sedentary position.
Surely not? Well, no—the right hon. Gentleman will be enabled to continue his contribution.
I would simply say to Conservative Members that the UK Government’s own analysis has indicated that a hard Brexit will damage jobs, yet what do we see? We see Conservative Members of Parliament laughing. They are laughing at the hardships that the people of Scotland might face.
The Secretary of State for Scotland downgraded devolution, ignored the Scottish Parliament and silenced Scotland when he supported the withdrawal Bill despite our Parliament—his Parliament—having rejected it. Will he now apologise to the people of Scotland for his series of broken promises? He has failed to protect devolution, he has failed to protect the Scottish Parliament and he has failed to protect Scottish interests. Having plunged Scotland into constitutional crisis, will he finally do the right thing by the Scottish people? If he has any dignity and self-respect, will he resign, and do it now? [Applause.]
Order. Members must not become over-excited. We have a long way to go. There is a lot still to be done, and there are lots of questions to be asked. There is lots of debate to be had and lots of fun to be savoured—in a seemly manner, I feel sure.
After yesterday, I am not taking any lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on dignity. However, we have at least had some clarification on what guerrilla tactics are going to be used in this Parliament, including chanting in line with what he says. I actually respect the fact that he opposes Brexit. He is perfectly entitled to do that, but he is not entitled to ignore the views of the more than 1 million people in Scotland who voted for Brexit but who the SNP want to airbrush out of history. Nor is he entitled to ignore the result of the referendum across the United Kingdom as a whole. It is therefore incumbent on this Government to deliver Brexit, and that is what we will do.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman was not wilfully misinterpreting the Sewel convention, because the convention is not absolute. He set it out as though it were, but it is not. As I said in my statement, the Government will seek consent unless normal circumstances do not apply, and anyone would accept that the UK leaving the EU is not normal circumstances.
That is an excellent question, because I have twice heard Ian Blackford say that powers will be stripped from the Scottish Parliament. However, not one power that the Scottish Parliament currently exercises will be stripped. Over 80 new powers and responsibilities are coming to Holyrood and, yes, I call that a “powers bonanza.”
I thank the Secretary of State for taking up my invitation in my point of order yesterday to make a statement to the House today. I want to ask him a serious question to try to take some of the heat out of the bluff and bluster from both sides of the House. As I understand it, the Scottish Brexit Secretary signed off or agreed with the proposals during meetings, but they were then vetoed by the First Minister. That suggests to me that a deal could be done and that compromises could be made by both sides. Will the Secretary of State now do everything in his power to get all sides back around the table to find the distance that they can go between compromise and getting a deal?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s acknowledgement of the statement, which was the right thing to do given that the opportunity to have a debate today had been declined by the leader of the SNP following yesterday’s stunt. I am still committed to getting agreement, and I welcome the recent interventions of Professor Jim Gallagher and Gordon Brown, who were genuinely looking for a settlement. We reached out to Michael Russell to see whether he was willing to engage with that process, but I am afraid that the clear message was that the Scottish Government’s position is as it was the last time we spoke and is as it was a year ago and that there is no scope for compromise. I am always willing to talk, and if there is any prospect of getting an agreement with the Scottish Government, I am open to doing so.
The only people who were silenced yesterday were the people of Perth and North Perthshire, Dundee West, Lanark and Hamilton East, Argyll and Bute, and Glasgow Central, because their elected representatives walked out on the opportunity to question the Prime Minister. I have been here only for a year, but I know there are many ways of representing our constituents in this privileged role of public office, and they happen in this Chamber, not outside for the TV cameras—[Interruption.]
Order. I said a moment ago when there was some chuntering from a sedentary position that the leader of the SNP must be heard, and the same applies in respect of the hon. Lady. Her question must be heard. There must not be an attempt to shout her down, and if there is such an attempt, it will fail—period.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, no matter how many hours the SNP were given to debate or how many powers were given back, an agreement would never be reached, because an agreement would damage the SNP’s crusade for independence? It is always self-interest, never the interests of Scotland.
We can reach an agreement only with people who want to reach an agreement, and it is clear that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have a different interpretation of the current constitution from everyone else. It is also abundantly clear from the weekend and from many of the SNP group’s antics that all they really want is to replace the existing devolution settlement with independence.
There was really only one thing that we needed to hear from the Secretary of State today—I say this as someone who is fond of the right hon. Gentleman—and that was his resignation. He has presided over this crisis with an ineptness rarely demonstrated on something that required a delicate touch and real negotiating skill, and he has a litany of failed commitments and broken promises. He will be remembered as the Secretary of State who first reversed devolution. He has let our Parliament down, and he has let democracy down. For goodness’ sake, man, just go.
That was an uncharacteristically quiet performance from the hon. Gentleman. I presume that it was aimed at achieving gravitas, but I will leave others to speculate as to whether he succeeded. I have not changed the devolution settlement, and the devolution settlement has not changed. The settlement, as achieved in 1998, was clear on the Sewel convention, and we are abiding by it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Scotland want, expect and deserve their two Governments to work together constructively in the country’s best interests? Does he share my deep concern about SNP Ministers’ threats of non-co-operation? Does he also agree that the SNP will not be forgiven if it turns its back on its parliamentary responsibilities simply to pursue the campaign for independence?
Absolutely. It is abundantly clear from research and opinion surveys that the people of Scotland want their two Governments to work together constructively to deliver the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK as we leave the EU. I take seriously some of the comments that have come from Scottish Ministers about withdrawing from co-operation with the UK Government, but I hope that they have just been caught up in the excitement that SNP Members generated in the media yesterday and that, when cool heads prevail, they will come back to the view that it is best for the two Governments to work together.
I suspect that, on reflection, the Secretary of State would now accept that it was a profound mistake to structure the programme motion in such a way that there was no time to discuss these important matters, which have been the subject of long debate. I hope that the Government will go away and reflect on that.
Having said that, what prospects are there for discussions on the common frameworks, which are the source of the argument, given that everybody knows that, whatever their view on the interpretation of the Sewel convention, because of Brexit, which I and many other people regret, an agreement needs to be reached on how things are going to work in the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union?
I take heed of the right hon. Gentleman’s wise words. This part of the dispute is totally incomprehensible to the wider public, because we are arguing about how we formally agree something that we have already agreed. We have agreed that there are 24 areas in relation to Scotland where common frameworks will be required across the UK. We have agreed that it will be necessary to freeze the current EU arrangements—what is happening every day just now—until new arrangements are put in place on a basis agreed between the Governments. I hope that we can now focus on that important matter, because the frameworks will make the difference to people in Scotland in terms of jobs and security in their day-to-day lives. That should be the focus, not dancing on the head of a constitutional pin.
As Lord Sewel’s Member of Parliament, I rise to speak because I am concerned for his welfare. All this talk of being turned on his head must be quite an experience for him. Given the exceptional nature and circumstances of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government have acted in line with the convention of my constituent, Lord Sewel, in order to protect the devolution settlement, which only the Conservative party will do, and to maintain the integrity of our United Kingdom?
Obviously I agree with my hon. Friend. Some people have sought to interpret the Sewel convention as meaning “never” or “not at all” or “not in any circumstances,” when the wording of the convention is clear—it is “not normally.” As I have said in previous answers, no one would dispute that these are not normal times. Indeed, that was the reflection of Michael Russell when issues of this nature were being considered in the Scottish Parliament.
Why is the Secretary of State misleading Members of this House and misrepresenting the views of the Scottish Parliament? He must surely know that the Scottish Government have no objection to common arrangements and that there has been no attempt to have a veto. In fact, the Scottish Government have sought to have a partnership, with a common agreed disputes procedure when differences might arise. Instead, his Government have insisted that common arrangements must make the devolved authorities subservient to the wishes of the United Kingdom Government. Given his misinterpretation of the facts, would it not be better for him to step aside and make way for someone who can better broker these discussions and seek agreement?
We have just heard from an expert in misinforming on the facts. His is not a fair or accurate interpretation of anything that has happened, but it belies the SNP’s fundamental view of the United Kingdom. Scotland is not a partner of the United Kingdom; Scotland is part of the United Kingdom.
I recognise theatre when I see it, particularly well-rehearsed theatre. Judging by today’s second performance, we could be in for a very long run. When the late, great David Bowie shouted from the stage, “Scotland, stay with us,” I agreed with him, and so did the majority of the Scots. We have stood shoulder to shoulder for generations, very successfully, and we have taken on the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to stand shoulder to shoulder and back each other, even when it comes to matters like football?
There is one thing on which I agree with my SNP counterparts, which is on commending the Scottish cricket team for their momentous victory over England. My hon. Friend is right that we had all these discussions, on the nature of Scotland’s constitution and its relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, in depth at the 2014 independence referendum. People voted decisively to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis that that was to be a once-in-a-generation choice. Let us not continue with this incessant debate and discussion about independence, but let us focus on using all the new and additional powers the Scottish Parliament will have for the benefit of the people of Scotland.
It happened at every stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill: on Second Reading we were promised that amendments would be tabled in Committee; then the Secretary of State promised us that amendments would be tabled on Report; then, on Third Reading, we were promised that after the Bill went to the Lords—where not only Scotland’s main party, the SNP, but all Scottish MPs have no voice—there would be time to debate and amend the Bill when it came back here. Nineteen minutes of one Minister speaking. The disrespect to Scotland is risible, so what does the Secretary of State have to say about how he respected Scotland and protected Scotland’s voice in this Chamber?
The hon. Lady will know there was an extensive discussion about the length of time provided for the debate, and I have said many times already that I believe it would have been better if more time were available, but she conveniently misses out one word I said about the amendments, and that word was “agreed.” I wanted to table agreed amendments in this House—amendments agreed with the Scottish Government—and that did not prove possible at any stage of the Bill. Sadly, it does not prove possible now.
The Secretary of State has talked a lot today about co-operation and working together. However, he did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend Mr Sweeney. The shadow Secretary of State and the leader of the Scottish Labour party have both written to the de facto Deputy Prime Minister to ask for urgent cross-party talks to fix this deadlock, so will the Secretary of State push for those talks, and will he be in attendance?
As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I have made clear, we will have talks if there is something to talk about. Professor Jim Gallagher and Gordon Brown made a proposal last week, and we extensively examined that proposal, but it did not meet our requirement of preserving the UK internal market. Where a solid and concrete proposal is made, of course we are happy to talk about it.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Labour Government of my country in his statement, and their actions on the power grab will be remembered as the biggest sell-out in Welsh political history. As a former historian, I can assure the House that that is quite some achievement. Once the EU (Withdrawal) Bill becomes law, is it not the reality that, as far as the new UK internal market is concerned, Wales and Scotland will be rule takers—vassal countries?
Can my right hon. Friend fathom why the Scottish Government would not want additional powers post Brexit? Surely it is far preferable for decisions to be made in Holyrood, with the best interests of the Scottish people at heart, rather than in Brussels, or am I missing something?
Where else can one Parliament unilaterally alter the competences of another against its will and in such a shoddy manner? Does not this episode show that the Sewel convention is worthless and that the British constitution is archaic, unfit for purpose and beyond repair?
The premise of that question is based on not accepting the United Kingdom’s existing constitutional arrangements, which were the subject of a vote by the Scottish people in 2014 in which they agreed that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm he still expects that the overwhelming majority of areas will be devolved to Holyrood immediately after Brexit, the result of which will be that the Scottish Parliament will have close to 100 new powers that it does not currently have? Those will be new powers for Scotland.
Only the SNP could turn the Scottish Parliament receiving over 80 new powers, for which it will have direct responsibility, into a power grab. This is what is happening: over 80 areas of power and responsibility are going to the Scottish Parliament. What people in Scotland want to see is the Scottish Parliament focusing on using those powers for the benefit of their day-to-day lives.
Tuesday was a low point in a long-running shambles for the devolution settlement. I have a lot of time for the Secretary of State, as I find him very constructive, but he is supposed to be Scotland’s voice in the Cabinet and his contradictions at the ballot box show that he has no idea what is going on. How long does he think he will be able to carry on while the Government are clearly taking no heed of what he has to say?
I am clear on what my role is: to stand up for Scotland’s place within the UK and the current constitutional arrangements. That is what I am going to continue to do. Of course SNP Members are not going to like that, because they do not like the existing constitutional arrangement and they want to change it, but I am not changing. I am sticking with that role of standing up for what people in Scotland voted for in 2014.
The past few days have seen the theatrical best of this Parliament, so perhaps the opportunity should now be taken to see the political best. Would the Secretary of State therefore like to stand up and make an open invitation to talks, and then see what the answer is?
I have made it clear, as the hon. Gentleman will have heard, that my door is open, as is that of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for discussions with anyone, but a constructive proposal needs to be on the table. At the moment, the position of the SNP Scottish Government is not to change from the one they adopted a year ago. We investigated that as recently as Monday; given the constructive approach from Professor Gallagher and Gordon Brown, we reached out to the Scottish Government to find out what their approach was. It was exactly the same: they were not for moving, compromising or changing. Until we can see a situation where movement might arise, although it might be possible to talk I do not anticipate it being possible to reach agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for providing me with prior sight of his statement. I also welcome the clarification that this is not a constitutional crisis, regardless of how much some Members might like to portray it as such. However, does he accept that the events of this week and the lack of debate on devolution have simply underlined the need for a proper, enduring dispute resolution process, rather than the current system? Surely that would be better than what we have seen from the Conservatives—blocking debate—and the self-serving, cynical hissy fits from the SNP, which do nothing for the people of Scotland.
I certainly agree with the last part of that question. Of course, intergovernmental relations and the arrangements between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government have been the subject of a lot of discussion and scrutiny. Even the Committee chaired by Pete Wishart, of which the hon. Lady is a member, has looked at these matters. I certainly agree that these intergovernmental arrangements need to be improved, and I want to continue to work to try to achieve that.
“If this Bill goes ahead in its current form it will make a mockery of democracy in the UK, damage the economy and ultimately result in constitutional crisis.”
Has the Secretary of State written those people off as diehard nationalists? Are their views to be rubbished and dismissed?
I have been listening to Mr Downie for nearly 20 years; at that time, he used to lobby the Scottish Parliament when I was an MSP. Of course we listen to the views of anyone who comes forward, but I disagree with that interpretation. The Bill, as businesses across Scotland recognise, is about bringing certainty on the day when we exit the EU. It is about ensuring that people know what the legal position is, and that is universally welcomed by businesses across Scotland.
This week, the Secretary of State’s Government abandoned any pretence of a commitment to devolution. By refusing to recognise and respect the sovereign will of the Scottish people and the will of the Scottish Parliament, his Government decreed that only he will control the powers of the Scottish Parliament, it can have only what he says it can have and it will be this place that will decide. Yet just last week, his Tory colleague Philip Davies said:
“if we allow devolved areas only to make decisions with which the Westminster Parliament agrees, there is not much point any more in any form of devolution”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 642, c. 458.]
Was he right to say that?
Again, the question is based on a premise that does not accept the current constitutional arrangement. I respect the fact that the current questioner and the likely remaining questioners will all have that position. They are entitled to it; they are entitled to argue for independence for Scotland. But they are not entitled to misconstrue the current constitutional arrangements within the UK. The Government have operated entirely within the Sewel convention in the actions they have taken. I want to see the devolved Parliaments doing thing differently—doing the things in Scotland that are right for Scotland. What disappoints me is how little time the Scottish Parliament, at the behest of the Scottish Government, actually spends legislating for Scotland and bringing forward different and new arrangements that would be specific to Scotland’s needs.
During his statement the Secretary of State repeatedly spoke about respect, and he, the Prime Minister and other Ministers have repeatedly talked about their respect for the decision of the Welsh Assembly to grant consent to the Bill. If they are truly democrats, should they not accord equal respect to the decision of the Scottish Parliament not to grant consent? Or does their respect for democracy not extend to Scotland’s Parliament?
I do respect the decision of the Scottish Parliament. I have made it clear that I am disappointed by it. I was particularly disappointed by the Scottish Labour party’s approach to that decision. We respect the decision, but what happens next is determined by the Sewel convention and we are acting in accordance with that.
The Secretary of State says that the situation is not normal, but he is establishing a new normal. He is establishing that this place can and will override the Scottish Parliament whenever, or if ever, the Scottish Parliament chooses to disagree. That is the opposite of the Sewel convention. The way he could demonstrate that he is not in defiance of the Sewel convention is by standing at the Dispatch Box now and confirming that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not be sent for Royal Assent until agreement is reached.
Of course there is still time to reach agreement, and we have indicated that if the Scottish Government came forward and set out agreement to what is proposed, we would welcome that. The hon. Gentleman, as a number of his colleagues have done to date—no doubt we will hear this further—chooses to misrepresent what the Sewel convention says. It is not an absolute term. It has not been utilised in this way previously; I would not want it to be utilised again. I would want us to reach agreement with the Scottish Parliament on issues such as these, and I give that commitment today that on all occasions that will be my approach and this Government’s approach.
By no stretch of the English language can the word “collaboration” encompass a 19-minute statement, all of Scotland’s Members of Parliament excluded from the debate, and then a vote to override the wishes of the Scottish Parliament. This is a poor excuse for a Parliament and the right hon. Gentleman is fast becoming a poor excuse for a Secretary of State for Scotland. Will he stand up at the Dispatch Box and do what my hon. Friend Patrick Grady just asked him to do: confirm that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not be given Royal Assent until an agreement is reached?
I am sorry—as I am sure you are, Mr Speaker—that the hon. Gentleman has such a low view of this Parliament, because he seems to me to be an active contributor to it and to utilise his position as a local MP effectively. I cannot give him the undertaking that he seeks. I have said at the Dispatch Box more than once already that if the Scottish Government wish to proceed on the basis on which the Welsh Assembly Government are proceeding, I am more than happy to facilitate that. I am more than happy to have a discussion on any other constructive proposal on these issues.
Just after the Brexit vote in this very Chamber the Secretary of State confirmed to me that
“the Scottish Government will be at the heart of the negotiation process.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 612, c. 866.]
Yet here we are, after the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill debates, with no sign of how the UK Government will reflect the will of the Scottish Parliament. Does the Secretary of State not see that as anti-democratic and disrespectful?
We have moved to ensure that the Scottish Government are at the heart of the negotiation process. A new ministerial forum—co-chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith—has been established, and it has met Scottish Government Ministers to discuss how they want us to approach certain elements of the EU negotiations. So yes, in policy areas in which the Scottish Government have an input in the process, we want to ensure that they are there and are heard, and that we work collaboratively and constructively, but we cannot agree with the Scottish Government’s proposition that the Scottish Parliament should have a veto over measures that apply across the whole United Kingdom.
Given that the highly respected former editor of the Daily Record, who was instrumental in the creation of the Better Together parties’ vow, has now decided to support independence, does the Secretary of State agree that the Union is well and truly stuffed and the Secretary of State’s tenure is well and truly over?
Mr Murray Foote is a good friend of mine, and he will stay a good friend. I have many friends who support independence, just as I have many friends who voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is the basis on which the debates in Scotland should be conducted—a much more convivial and civil basis than they have been recently. The antics of Ian Blackford yesterday do not help, because they agitate the political environment in Scotland, and, rather than enhancing the opportunity to debate issues, they reduce it.
I agree with many of my hon. Friends that the Secretary of State is a nice man, and I respect him personally, but does he not see that his Government’s complete distain for Scotland extends even to his position? He was side-lined during the Brexit discussions and had no place at the table to discuss the impact on Scotland. His paymasters hold him in the same contempt as they hold the Scottish people. When comes the point at which principle takes over for the Secretary of State?
I can agree that the hon. Lady is a nice lady, and I have always got on well with her, but beyond the initial part of her question I do not agree with her. My role is to be at the heart of the Government, ensuring that Scotland’s issues and concerns are taken into account, not only on Brexit but on a whole range of other issues. I know that, like her colleagues, the hon. Lady does not accept the current constitutional arrangements, but I will continue to do my job of standing up for Scotland within the United Kingdom.
I am going to be a bit more conciliatory than some of my colleagues have been today, and would like to thank the Government’s man in Scotland. I thank the Secretary of State for his insipid statement, I thank the Secretary of State for failing to show respect to the Scottish Parliament and I thank him for failing to engage in meaningful discussions, because people I could not reach during the Scottish referendum are now stepping forward in droves and engaging in this conversation. People who argued no to Vote 2014 are flocking to the indy cause; SNP membership is once again on the increase; and when the time comes, as it surely will, the Secretary of State will reap what he has sown. Is this the legacy that he wants for his tenancy?
It was no surprise a few moments ago to hear the Secretary of State condemn walk-outs, given that 30 years ago his party legislated to deny workers that right in every other workplace. He made no mention in his statement of anything about the views of civic Scotland. There has been an overwhelming negative reaction, such as that from the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to the current form of clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Does the he not agree with the STUC that in its current form clause 11 is devolution’s greatest ever crisis?
I most certainly do not agree with that assessment. The feedback that I have received from civic Scotland and from ordinary people across Scotland is that they are sick and tired of this constitutional wrangling, of this dancing on the head of a pin to find something to have a row about. They want the two Governments to work together in Scotland’s best interests and, particularly in the current circumstances, to get the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK as we leave the EU.
My answer is actually the reverse, in the sense that we want an arrangement that applies to the whole United Kingdom. We are not going to have bespoke arrangements for different parts of the United Kingdom.
In his capacity as Scotland’s man in the Cabinet, the Secretary of State has been responsible for promises being made from the Dispatch Box on four occasions, and he has been responsible for those promises being broken on four occasions. In his capacity as the Cabinet’s person in Scotland, he has been responsible for a situation that the BBC has said can fairly be described as a power grab and that The Spectator magazine has said no self-respecting Scottish Government could ever accept. In addition, as has been mentioned, one of the most arch Unionists of 2014 is now enthusiastically pro-independence, and in the 24 hours before the Secretary of State stood up to speak, 5,000 new people joined the SNP. If that is what he does when he is trying to keep Scotland in the Union, what on earth would he do if he was trying to persuade us to leave?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s catalogue of events. I have been very clear, as I have said already in answer to other questions, that I wanted to introduce amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to the House, but I wanted those amendments to have been agreed with the Scottish Government. It was not possible then and it has not been possible now to reach that agreement, because the Scottish Government have adopted a position that is not in accordance with the current constitutional settlement. It is their view that the Scottish Parliament should have a veto over matters that affect the whole United Kingdom. That was not part of the original devolution settlement and it is not part of it now.
During Tuesday’s 19 minutes and even in today’s statement, we heard nothing from the UK Government on how they propose to reflect the views of the Scottish people and the views of all the democratically elected parties in the Scottish Parliament, save for the out-of-touch Tories. Does the Secretary of State think that that is an illustration of Scotland being a valued and equal partner in the Union? Why does he continue, right through the statement today, to try to portray this as the Scottish Government refusing consent, when he knows fine well that it is every single party in the Scottish Parliament, except the Tories?
As the hon. Lady, whose energetic contributions I always enjoy, would make clear, we have been seeking to agree an arrangement with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government then take forward a recommendation to the Parliament in relation to legislative consent. They took forward a motion to decline not just this part of the Bill, but the whole Bill. I wish that it were otherwise, but I hope now that we can move forward to work with the Scottish Government on the issues which we have already agreed. We have agreed the 24 areas which it is likely will need common frameworks. That is where we should be now. We should be working with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and, hopefully in time, a Northern Ireland Executive to create those frameworks because it is those frameworks that will have the impact on the day-to-day lives of people in Scotland. That is what people in Scotland want to see. They want to see their Government focusing on the issues that matter to them, not on constitutional pin-head arguments.
On Burns night, the Scottish Secretary told me in this Chamber that the Bill would be amended in agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. He said that he took full responsibility for failing then. Will he take full responsibility for going back on his word now and resign?
The emphasis that the hon. Gentleman put on the words in those sentences is not quite correct because I wanted an agreement with the Scottish Government, but it is quite clear that that agreement will not be forthcoming on a basis that would be acceptable under the existing devolution settlement. We have rehearsed those arguments numerous times in answers to questions today. It is not acceptable that the devolution settlement be changed as part of Brexit to give the Scottish Parliament a veto over matters that would apply across the whole of the United Kingdom.
A reminder: the Tory-friendly Spectator magazine said that no self-respecting party of any colour could give consent to the EU withdrawal Bill in its current format. As other hon. Members have said, much of civic Scotland agrees about the impact on devolution, yet, instead of showing any contrition whatsoever, the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box and tells us to like it or lump it and does some SNP bashing for good measure. It is quite obvious that he cannot even differentiate between the SNP, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, so I ask him to show some backbone for once and resign.
When we brought forward the initial proposals, Members of this House, Members of the Scottish Parliament and others responded to those proposals. I appeared before the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament, we listened to what we heard from all of those, from civic Scotland and from elected representatives across Scotland, and we made very, very significant changes to the Bill. As Ian Murray pointed out, we were extremely close to reaching agreement. Those in the room felt that agreement could be reached but, at the end of the day, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government did not agree with what was proposed. On that basis, we have not been able to conclude agreement. I regard that as regrettable. I would still welcome it if the Scottish Government came on board with the Welsh Government in relation to supporting the proposals if that is at all possible.
I set out in my statement the definitions and the operation of the Sewel convention. I understand that the hon. Lady does not support the existing constitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom and wishes to change them. That is, as I have repeatedly said at this Dispatch Box, a perfectly legitimate position to adopt, but what is not right is to seek to misconstrue the existing arrangements. The Sewel convention is clear and this Government have acted in accordance with it.
In the 1990s, there was a referendum on devolution and every party, including my own, except the Secretary of State’s party, campaigned for a yes vote. Scotland rose to the occasion after that yes vote, including the Conservatives. One of the proudest moments that all of us in Scotland had was watching those new MSPs for the first time process up towards the General Assembly of the Scottish Parliament. May I ask the Secretary of State, who was in that procession as a new MSP, with all those people looking on in pride, whether he ever thought that, 19 years on, he would be at that Dispatch Box starting the process of deconstructing the Scottish Parliament?
Perhaps it was apt to leave the most ludicrous contribution til last. This Government have delivered additional powers to the Scottish Parliament, so I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can make that statement, as Ministers today discuss the transfer of welfare powers, so that the Scottish Parliament can set up its own welfare system. Income tax powers have been introduced, which, regrettably, means that some of us have to pay more tax in Scotland than other parts of the United Kingdom. This Government have presided over a significant increase in the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, but it will never be enough for the SNP. Ultimately, it does not support devolution and all it wants is another independence referendum.