Devolution

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

What assessment he has made of the merits of devolution over the last 20 years.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

What assessment he has made of the merits of devolution over the last 20 years.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I have recently participated in events to celebrate 20 years of devolution, which has transformed the constitutional landscape of the United Kingdom. Devolution has successfully brought decision making on key public services closer to the people who use them while keeping the benefits that arise from the strength of our United Kingdom.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

It is nice to hear the Minister say it like he means it. The Scottish Government are launching an innovative, engaging and participatory programme of citizens’ assemblies to look at what direction the devolution settlement in Scotland might go in. By contrast, this Government have appointed Lord Dunlop, an unelected peer, to review devolution. Does that not tell us everything we need to know about this Government’s attitude to devolution? They never really wanted it in the first place.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Dearie me! The SNP need to stop misrepresenting the review. A key part of its terms of reference states that it will

“need to respect and support the current devolution settlement”.

It is about how the UK Government can work better with the devolved Assemblies and Governments. The SNP should be welcoming the review, instead of trying to foster yet another false grievance.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

The Scottish and Welsh Governments recently wrote to the Minister expressing disappointment that 15 months on a review about intergovernmental relations has stalled owing to the Government’s unwillingness to make reforms. Will the Minister commit to addressing in detail each of the points in that letter, including the one on a strengthened dispute resolution process?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Constructive discussions continue on the intergovernmental review and its structure, although it has been slightly hamstrung by the lack of a Government in Northern Ireland. We hope that that can be resolved in the near future. We will of course consider all submissions with respect, because ultimately we all need to agree the way forward.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Health and justice are both devolved areas, but the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is not. Will the Minister help to remove the blockage in the Home Office, which is preventing the Scottish Government from opening a drug consumption room? The drug death figure to be released next week is set to be over 1,000 for last year.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be visiting to look at this issue. As we have discussed in other areas of common frameworks, there will clearly need to be some consistency on these types of issues, as crime does not respect political boundaries or borders.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Lord President of the Council

I wish the Front Bench all the best in the coming reshuffle. We will be watching their futures and careers with interest. In recalling Labour’s achievement in introducing devolution, we are reminded that our country is still very over-centralised, power being concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite governing at the expense of the rest. For example, in the north and south-west alone, more than 1 million children are now living in poverty. If power was truly devolved, that situation would not arise. Basic social justice requires us to recast the constitutional contours of the British state. When will the Government finally abandon their top-down, old-fashioned ways and help to build a modern decentralised state based on a partnership with the nations and regions that reflects our diversity, instead of suppressing it, as they do now?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I do not recognise the shadow Minister’s description, not least given that we have been driving forward devolution settlements and devolving power to combined authorities in England, as well as what we have seen happen in devolution in the nations. Only this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales met those in the potential great western powerhouse to see how that could be taken forward. I find it ironic, however, to be lectured on control from the centre by a party whose leader wants to take control of the entire economy from Whitehall.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

We understand that the Dunlop review is to look at the organisation of Departments and whether they are optimised for devolution. Do the Government have any plans or intention to review policy with regard to the constitution that underpins the Union and to the devolution settlement in particular?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As I said a few moments ago, the review will need to take into account and support the current devolution settlement.

I wish that, in my assessment of devolution, I could have said that it had produced better education standards in Scotland. In fact, however, Scottish schools have fallen in international rankings, and a smaller percentage of Scotland’s most deprived children go to university than in any other part of the United Kingdom. It is not devolution that is at fault; it is the Scottish National party.