20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan 1:20 pm, 11th July 2019

It is an honour to follow Susan Elan Jones and, in particular, to hear the translation of some Welsh poetry at least. I am pleased that the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, and the Welsh Affairs Committee have secured this debate to mark 20 years of devolution. It is an important landmark in the history of the United Kingdom and an appropriate time to reflect on the progress we have made towards more representative and more effective government in Scotland and Wales—and Northern Ireland, when we get its Assembly back.

Over the past 20 years, Scotland has seen multiple rounds of devolution. It was a Conservative-led Government who oversaw the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016, which devolved additional powers to the Scottish Parliament, making it one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world today. The Scottish Affairs Committee’s recent report on inter- governmental relations highlighted the many other upheavals that have influenced the devolution settlement during that time, including the change of Government in 2007 and the independence referendum in 2014. It is clear that the devolution settlement that Scotland enjoys today is very different from the one created back in 1999. With 111 additional powers due to be devolved from Brussels to Holyrood as we leave the European Union—87 immediately and another 24 to follow—it will soon be changing further.

As the Member of Parliament for Banff and Buchan, the heartland of Scottish fishing, I know that my constituents will be glad to see overall fisheries policy being determined closer to home, rather than by distant bureaucrats on the continent. I also know that many of my constituents have been frustrated by the SNP’s apparent desire to keep all those powers in Brussels, by keeping us in the EU and, by association, in the common fisheries policy.

Brexit or no Brexit, however, it is right that the UK and Scottish Governments should be investigating how intergovernmental relations can be improved, but this is not the time for talk of radically rewriting the devolution settlement. While we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of devolution as a whole, it is worth recognising that the last Scotland Act came into force just three years ago. In fact, we are still implementing that last rewrite of the devolution settlement, and earlier this year it emerged that the SNP-run Scottish Government will not be ready for the full devolution of welfare powers until 2024. This from the same party that told voters in 2014 that it could set up a whole new country in just 18 months.

Instead of plotting a rematch against the voters on independence or devising increasingly left-field proposals to overhaul the devolution settlement yet again, the focus of this review should be on ensuring that the devolution settlement we have got is implemented smoothly and effectively.