20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:36 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 1:36 pm, 11th July 2019

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I think specifically of the first SNP minority Government who were sustained in power on many occasions by the Scottish Conservative MSPs when they were passing their legislative business through Holyrood.

I mentioned the Prime Minister’s speech. I also wish to mention the significant address that was delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Edinburgh the week before the Prime Minister’s visit. Both addressed the matter of the strength of the Union in the 20th anniversary year of devolution, and both concluded, on the basis of their assessment, that the Union must be strengthened, and they are both right. The Union has been too much neglected.

Talking about the Union is good. I recommend it to colleagues from all parts of the House, because there is an understanding gap in certain quarters of the parties on both sides of this House about what the Union is and its importance. However, talking about it is simply not good enough; we must now do something about it.

I say to my friends on the Conservative Benches that what concerns me the most is that we have this important debate about devolution brought to this Chamber by these two Select Committees, but there are no Members of Parliament representing English constituencies here to make a contribution to this important constitutional issue, other than the Minister whom I welcome to his place.

The Conservative and Unionist party must continuously rediscover its Unionist soul. We should affirm now, more than ever before, that we have the word “Unionist” in our party’s name, because strengthening the Union is core to what we stand for. We need to put strengthening the Union at the very heart of our Government. Setting up a unit of one sort or another for the Union in No.10 or putting titles on the end of other job titles is lip service only; we need the very structure of Government to be changed to put the Union at its heart. I have said this in the past, and I want to say it again here and now: there are missing pieces of the devolution settlement, and those missing pieces are at this end of the country.

I will make a very short list of the things that I believe we need to attend to, or at least consider and debate, because I very much welcome the Select Committee report of Pete Wishart and the recommendations contained therein. My first suggestion is to look very carefully at the case for a powerful Department of the United Kingdom, led by a First Secretary of State for the Union, the primary purpose of which would be to test every action of the UK Government based on its impact on the Union. The Department would be further tasked to ensure greater cohesion and communication across Government on issues affecting the devolved Administrations to ensure that better understanding and knowledge of devolution and the Union.

Secondly, we need to put in place those missing pieces of the constitutional machinery that will establish stronger intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary working relationships to move from confrontation to close collaboration on crossover areas of public policy. These changes must be done on a cross-party basis, and they are essential for the post-Brexit operation of the Union.

Thirdly, the Departments of the UK Government with a Union-wide remit must engage with stakeholders and other bodies on the ground in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as they already do in England. It is simply not good enough that that does not happen today.