20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:28 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 12:28 pm, 11th July 2019

With all great respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands and possibly does not really appreciate what we are saying. We suggest in our report that parity of esteem be established. It is not right that the UK Government should chair all proceedings and set the agenda; that should be the responsibility of all Governments and the chairing should be rotated—just the chairing, so not having a veto but just ensuring that that sense of equality exists between the four Governments in a setting and a forum that is supposed to be able to accommodate that.

What we said about the Scotland Office and the Secretary of State’s role probably got most of the headlines and caught most of the attention when our report came out just a few short weeks ago. When we looked at the Scotland Office and the Secretary of State’s role, we found a Department that has more or less been bypassed in two very important functions. One of them is at the highest level of inter-Government relations such as the bilateral meetings between First Minister and Prime Minister. That now seems to be conducted by the de facto Deputy Prime Minister; he does all that and there does not seem to be much of a role for the Scotland Office in those proceedings. The second thing we found, which is probably more important, is that bilateral arrangements between Ministers from Scotland and Whitehall were being conducted by themselves and they were not going through the Scotland Office. If a Minister in Scotland wanted to deal with an issue that was of importance to the UK so it was something that needed to be done together, that would go straight to the relevant Whitehall Department down here with no role for the Scotland Office. So we asked what the Scotland Office therefore really does, and why it is in place, with all the paraphernalia of a civil service and so on.