Amendments made: 27, page 53, leave out lines 28 and 29.
This amendment would remove private international law from the list of exclusions in Schedule 2
Amendment 28, page 53, leave out line 35—(Alok Sharma.)
This amendment would remove private international law from the list of exclusions in Schedule 2
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
More than 150 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken during the passage of the Bill so far. We have had around 30 hours of often passionate debate, and I pay tribute to Members across the House for their contributions. The Public Bill Office has been unstinting in its support to all Members and officials across Government, and I am incredibly grateful for all its work. I particularly wish to thank the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, my hon. Friend Paul Scully, the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith, and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend Mr Walker who have ably steered the Bill through Committee and Report.
The UK internal market is the bedrock of our shared economic and social prosperity as a country. Since the Acts of Union, it has been the source of unhindered and open trade, which has supported growth and safeguarded livelihoods and businesses. It demonstrates that, as a Union, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.
Since 1973, EU law has acted as the cohering force for the UK internal market. In 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union, which the Government delivered in January, and as we leave the transition period at the end of this year, the Government will leave the European Union’s legal jurisdiction once and for all. We need to replace this law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while of course also ensuring that the devolved Administrations benefit from a power surge from Brussels.
The fact is that there is nothing in this Bill that in any way compromises the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply regrettable that some people, for political purposes, seek to unnecessarily scaremonger, and that they should desist from doing so?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will come on to it. As I was saying, we need to replace the law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while also ensuring that devolved Administrations benefit from that power surge from Brussels. The Bill will do precisely that.
Our approach will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and it will do so without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the different parts of the United Kingdom. I cannot overstate the importance of this economic continuity Bill, especially as we seek to recover from covid-19. It is ultimately designed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, protect businesses, give choice to consumers and continue to showcase the United Kingdom as a beacon for inward investment. That is why this legislation is so vital.
My Department and I, along with colleagues across Government, have spoken to a large number of businesses and business representative organisations across the whole of the United Kingdom about our proposals to safeguard our internal market. Businesses have overwhelmingly backed our approach. The British Chambers of Commerce has stressed that
“A fragmented system would create additional costs, bureaucracy and supply chain challenges that could disrupt operations for firms across the UK.”
NFU Scotland has emphasised the importance of protecting the UK internal market, stating:
“NFU Scotland’s fundamental priority, in the clear interest of Scottish agriculture as well as the food and drinks sector it underpins, is to ensure the UK Internal Market effectively operates as it does now.”
I could go on. Make UK has noted that it is particularly important to manufacturers that they can trade simply and effectively across all parts of the United Kingdom. The business community is clear: we must continue to safeguard the sanctity of the seamless UK internal market.
The Bill also respects and upholds the devolution settlements—[Interruption.] Ian Blackford says it does not. He will get a large number of powers—an unprecedented level of powers—back after the transition period. If he does not want them, he ought to stand up and say that, but the reality is that he is against this Bill because he wants to be shackled to the European Union forever. That is the reason he is against this—
The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that I am talking nonsense. He just needs to re-read his Second Reading speech and he will see that it is full of inaccuracies. We have engaged in good faith with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the Bill. It was very unfortunate that the Scottish Government decided to walk away from the discussions on the internal market last year and, as I said, we want to continue to work constructively.
Let me turn briefly to the Northern Ireland element of this business Bill, which has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest and commentary. I and every Member on the Government Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of United Kingdom, and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal we would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market. The Bill delivers on those commitments. We have also been clear that we must protect the gains of the peace process and maintain the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the Bill has no impact at all on the Good Friday agreement, and, indeed, is only helpful to the economy in Northern Ireland—but only helpful in a limited way. He talked about access to the UK internal market for Northern Ireland goods going into GB, but will he say something about the opposite direction? Northern Ireland depends so highly on imports from GB, and yet there is no mention of safeguards to stop trade being blocked in that direction.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that discussions continue. He and I have had those discussions as well. But he makes the point that this is a business Bill, and I hope that every Member, like him, will support it on Third Reading.
We have taken these powers to ensure that, in the event that we do not reach an agreement with our EU friends on how to implement the protocol, we are able to deliver on promises in our manifesto and in the Command Paper. This is a legal safety net that clarifies our position on the Northern Ireland protocol, protecting our Union, businesses and jobs.
This has been debated over the long passage of the Bill in this House. As the hon. Lady and other Members will know, we introduced an amendment in Committee that provides a break-glass mechanism that ensures that the safety net will come into force only if a motion in this House is passed with a requirement for a take-note debate in the other place. I hope that will allow her to vote for the Bill on Third Reading.
I will not; I am now winding up.
This Bill provides the certainty that businesses want and need to invest and create jobs. It helps to maintain high standards and choice for consumers while keeping prices down. It reaffirms our commitment to devolution, supporting one of the biggest transfers of power to the devolved Administrations. It allows the Government to invest further in communities across the United Kingdom. This is about levelling up across the whole of the UK and strengthening our precious Union, which some would want to put at risk. I am a Unionist, as is Edward Miliband; neither of us are separatists. Above all, the Bill continues to preserve the UK internal market that has been an engine of growth and prosperity for centuries. In voting for this Bill, we protect our constituents’ jobs, businesses and livelihoods. I commend it to the House.
I join the Business Secretary in paying tribute to the Public Bill Office for the work that it has done. I also profoundly thank my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for the incredible hard work they did during the Bill’s Committee and Report stages. I am pleased to see the Business Secretary back in his place for the Third Reading of the Bill. I am afraid to have to report that the person deputising for him on Second Reading did not do a great job. Next time the Prime Minister asks to fill in for him, I suggest that he tells him to go elsewhere and he will do a very fine job, thank you.
Let me go to the heart of the debates around this Bill. We support the principle of the internal market, but there are two profound flaws at the heart of the Bill, and that is why we will vote against it tonight. On devolution, Labour Members believe deeply in our Union, but the strength of our Union lies in sharing power, not centralising it, and this Bill does not learn that lesson. It makes a choice to impose the rule that the lowest regulatory standard in one Parliament must be the standard for all without a proper voice for the devolved Administrations. I have read carefully the debate in Committee and on Report, and there has been no proper answer forthcoming from the Government about why they did not seek to legislate for the common frameworks, as they could easily have done. Nor can they explain why they are taking such broad powers over public spending in specific devolved areas of competence.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the great scheme of devolution of the illustrious former leader of the Labour party in Scotland and Scotland’s first First Minister under devolution, Donald Dewar, was that every power would be devolved unless specifically reserved? What is wrong with the Bill is that it gives the British Government the power to override devolved powers. That is the heart of the matter.
There is an important point here. To take the example of animal welfare or food safety, those powers remain devolved, but they are devolved in name only, because by imposing the minimum standard as the lowest standard for all legislatures, those powers are seriously undermined. I have to say to the Business Secretary that I fear that the Bill will only strengthen the hand of those who want to break up the UK.
On international law, nobody should be in any doubt about the damage already done by the Bill. I do not blame the Business Secretary, but this law-breaking Bill has been noticed around the world by not just the Irish Government, not just our EU negotiating partners, and not just Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who the Government can dismiss. Even President Trump’s Northern Ireland envoy Mick Mulvaney visited the Republic of Ireland yesterday and said:
“I think anyone who looks at the situation”— with the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—
“understands there could be a series of events that could put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.”
When the Trump Administration start expressing concern about your adherence to international agreements and the rule of law, you know you are in trouble. That is how bad this Bill is.
I am going to carry on.
“the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought to the long-term impact on the United Kingdom’s standing in the world.”—[Official Report,
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in fact, in the past, there have been substantial breaches of international law by Labour Governments as well as by other ones? Furthermore, does he believe that the Iraq war was lawful?
This is unprecedented in the following sense: the Government are coming along and breaking an international agreement they signed less than a year ago. I have heard the hon. Gentleman, and I have read the debates on the issue, and he certainly has not produced an example in any way remotely similar to what is happening in the Bill.
I want to develop my argument, because an important point has been understated in the debate since Second Reading. The clauses are not simply wrong, as so many hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise; they are not simply unnecessary, because the protocol has mechanisms to deal with the issues at hand; but there has been a notable event since Second Reading that has exposed the Government’s strategy even further, which is the cancellation of the Budget.
Let us recall the Government’s fig leaf designed to hide their embarrassment. The issue was at-risk goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The whole case made by the Prime Minister was that the Bill was necessary to prevent the blockade of goods from GB into NI. The threat was described as “extraordinary” and the very reason to break international law, but the measures, as we now know, to break the law in this Bill, do not, as he had to admit at Second Reading, deal with the issue of GB to NI trade.
The excuse was that GB to NI issues would be dealt with in the Finance Bill, as was explicit in the statement put out on
“Further measures will be set out in the Finance Bill, relating to tariffs on GB-NI movements, including the same Parliamentary process that the Government has committed to for the UKIM Bill.”
In case it escaped the House’s attention, the Budget has been cancelled and so has the Finance Bill. So where now is the mechanism to deal with the extraordinary threat that we face as a country? Can anyone on the Government side tell me where it is? The country faces an extraordinary threat that has to be dealt with, but the legislation we are considering does not cover it, nor does any legislation even in view.
I will give way to the Business Secretary if he would like to tell me how this will be dealt with. There is no answer—he would prefer not to. I do not blame the Business Secretary, because let us be clear what has happened here: the legislative hooligans in Downing Street who dreamed this up have moved on to something else, but the Bill is still with us, and so we are going through all this pain, all this grief, all this damage to our international reputation, and the central argument on which it is based is not even covered by any legislation.
What are we to conclude? Was this all a charade—a “dead cat” strategy, as I think it is known—to distract attention? Was it a trap designed to pretend that we were rerunning remain versus leave? Was it perhaps a Government strategy to pretend to their Back Benchers that the Government are willing to break the law in order to soften them up on accepting concessions in the endgame of the negotiations with the EU. Whatever the excuse, all of them reflect so badly on the Government.
We are at a grave national moment—our gravest for a generation, because of coronavirus. We are trying to conclude a Brexit deal, which is vital for our country. We need new trade deals, in which our word is our bond. Yet the Government play these appalling games, thinking so little of their Back Benchers that they think they can pull the wool over their eyes; willing to resile from a treaty that they signed, for a day’s headlines; playing fast and loose with the law for short-term gain.
The Bill will get its majority and go to the other place, but their lordships should know that, across this House, there is deep concern about it. That has been shown again and again by good people on both sides of the House in the last few weeks. I urge the other place to bring the Bill into compliance with the rule of law and salvage our reputation. But we in the House of Commons have a chance tonight to show our concern again. It is an indefensible Bill. It damages our country. It is wrong and self-defeating. I urge Members on all sides to oppose it tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke, as always, with great energy and passion. I sometimes regret that his successor as leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, did not show half as much energy and passion in making the case during the referendum; if he had, we would not need to be debating this Bill at all, but there it is.
The reality is that we must make sure that, as we leave the transition period, we have a working internal market, and I therefore support the Bill in principle. I am delighted to see the Business Secretary. I hope he takes on board a point that I know his junior Minister, my hon. Friend Paul Scully has noted: as we build a working internal market, I hope we can find ways in which to expand it to other close parts of the British family that are aligned with and have great synergy with us. For example, the Crown dependencies—the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands—which are linked closely already to financial services and many other parts of our economy.
In particular—I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar—we should make sure that the overseas territory of Gibraltar has clear, free and unfettered access to the UK internal market. They stood with Britain, despite the fact that, like me, they did not want to be in this situation. We owe it to them to make sure that they are not allowed to become collateral damage, economically or in other respects, as a result of the decision that we took. I hope the Business Secretary is actively engaged with the Government of Gibraltar to find ways in which we can make sure that they are able to participate fully in that market and benefit from it.
It is well enough known that the provisions relating to Northern Ireland cause me and many others great concern in their original form. I am grateful for the approach that the Government have adopted, and for the clarifications of their approach and on the changes that they have been willing to make. I will not pretend that we have solved every problem there. I will not rerun the discussion we had on Report, but I gently say this: sovereignty power and reserved powers are generally best used sparingly, lightly and with great deliberation. I hope that, having taken certain powers, we will make sure through our negotiations: first, that we never have need to use them, because the damage would be real were we to do so; and, secondly, that we exercise them with restraint. Like it or not, and whether necessary or not, even accepting the Secretary of State’s proposition that we need a “break glass in emergency” provision, we do have to reflect that this legislation has, for whatever reason, created concern among many of our closest allies and neighbours—people with whom we need to engage.
I want to be in a position where we can, for example, advance the excellent Judge Joanna Korner’s candidature for the International Criminal Court with a clear hand, and say that we are genuinely committed to the rule of international law. I want us genuinely to be able to say in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and other places that we remain committed to the rule of law internationally.
I normally try to give way, but time is short; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I hope that we will be able to say, as a number of hon. Friends of mine have been able to do in the Council of Europe, that we are—despite, for example, the difference over prisoner voting rights—committed to the rule of law. We must make sure that we do not allow anything to undermine that, because reputations take time to build. Ours is an excellent one in international legal circles, and we do not want that to be lost.
The Secretary of State made a fair point about the desire for business continuity and for the UK to remain a beacon for inward investment. As well as benign tax and regulatory regimes, the other—perhaps the most important—reason that people invest here is the fact that we are regarded as a safe jurisdiction in legal terms and a safe polity in which to invest, because we do not behave in an arbitrary manner. I therefore hope that we will be very clear that we will stick rigidly to the clarifications and caveats that we gave in relation to the use of any emergency powers, and that such powers will be used carefully, proportionately and without ousting the other obligations that we entered into through the withdrawal agreement and the protocol.
Let me turn to the other matter relating to business continuity. It is important that we rebuild and strengthen our international links for the practical reason that was mentioned by an Opposition Member on Report, and that is the need to go forward. Once we have left the provisions of the EU arrangements at the end of the transition period, businesses will need and want to have a ready, efficient and swift means of enforcing contracts and judgments upon contracts across the EU and with our neighbours. To do that, at the very least we have to join, as a matter of urgency, the Lugano convention. To achieve membership of the Lugano convention, we must have the consent of the European Union members of that convention. At the moment, the Commission is recommending withholding that consent. The European Free Trade Association members have consented.
It would be profoundly dangerous and damaging for British business were we not able to access Lugano, because of all the difficulties for any international contract that I have pointed out. It would be a huge disadvantage and would affect individuals: the woman seeking to get maintenance payments from the absent father, who is now in an EU country; or the person seeking to pursue a personal injury claim, where the driver of the vehicle that went into them is in a different jurisdiction. Rebuilding the bridges to ensure that we can get back into Lugano may sound prosaic, but it is actually profoundly important for the good operation of our legal system once we have left. Sometimes a little less of the poetry—and a bit more of the prosaic—is required in government. I hope that we can now move forward into that stage.
I beg to move,
That this House
declines to give a Third Reading to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill because it contains provisions which allow the Government to break commitments it has made under international law, and because it does not have the agreed consent to legislate within the competencies of the devolved legislatures which is contrary to the established devolution settlement.
May I thank the Public Bill Office for the consideration that it has given to the SNP as we have sought to table amendments to the Bill? I also thank my hon. Friend Drew Hendry for the work that he has done in Committee.
This legislation has been rushed through by the UK Government over the course of the last two weeks, after a rushed consultation and a total failure to engage with the devolved Governments. The United Kingdom shows no respect for the devolved institutions in this Bill, and it does not have their consent. We are told that this legislation seeks to secure the Union, so it is telling that it has failed to gain the consent of even a single part of that Union.
With limited time in this House, parliamentarians have spent hours debating and dissecting this Bill. We have attempted to scrutinise every clause and every schedule to it. Members from all parts of the House have made significant speeches and a raft of Opposition amendments have been brought forward, yet here we are tonight and nothing has changed. This Bill still does exactly what it set out to do two weeks ago. It still breaks international law and it still breaks devolution. For the absence of doubt, let me make it clear: it breaks devolution.
It is the same auld with this Tory Government. They have not listened, they have not taken the chance to change course and they have not seen the need to compromise. This Government have typically and arrogantly ploughed on. Throughout the passage of the Bill, they have voted down and ignored anyone and everyone who has sought to defend devolution and uphold international law. The character of this Government is crystal clear: they are consistent in their contempt.
As always, we accept and respect decisions with regard to the selection of motions and amendments, but if Members refer to today’s Order Paper, they will see that the Government had options available to them that would have perhaps demonstrated they did have some remaining respect for the devolution settlement and the national legislatures of these islands. They could have held over Third Reading until each of the devolved institutions had considered legislative consent motions. That would have been respectful to the devolved institutions. They could have referred the Bill for further scrutiny to the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Instead, they insist on using their majority to force the Bill through without even pretending they care what the devolved nations think.
I thank—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are getting very agitated about some of this, but is this not the point—the real power grab here and the real undermining of the devolution settlement is the callous disregard for the Sewel convention, which this Government put on a statutory footing and are now completely ignoring? That is one of the fundamental acts that has undermined devolution across these islands.
My hon. Friend is correct. You know, we were told after the referendum in Scotland in 2014 that Scotland’s place would be respected and that we were to lead the United Kingdom, and here we find not just our Parliament in Edinburgh but the Administrations in Cardiff and in Northern Ireland being ignored. We can refuse to give consent, as we are doing, to this Bill, but the Government carry on regardless. Where is that respect for devolution? Where is the respect for the people of Scotland? In a referendum in 1997, 75% of the people of Scotland voted for a Parliament. It is not the SNP’s Parliament. it is not the Scottish Government’s Parliament; it is the Parliament of the people of Scotland—the Parliament of the people of Scotland when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed that gave powers over devolved matters. What those on the Government Benches refuse to see—what the rest of us can see—is that this Parliament is giving itself the power to override the Scottish Parliament in health, in education, in transport and in housing.
I can hear the Secretary of State shouting, but it is his Bill and I suggest he reads it, because clauses 46 and 47 are very clear: powers over infrastructure, including
“water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services… railway facilities (including rolling stock), roads or other transport facilities… health, educational, cultural or sports facilities”.
The Secretary of State can sit and tell us that it does not override devolution. Well, the facts are in the Bill. What the Government have done is overridden devolution and, quite frankly, I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, we in Scotland will be having absolutely none of it.
So tonight, just as—[Interruption.] You can chunter and shout all you like, but at the end of the day, the people in Scotland have been watching what has been going on over the past few months, with Scotland being disregarded. The fact is that we won the election in Scotland last December on the right of Scotland to choose its own future. We had no desire to be taken out of the European Union against our will. In England, you can choose to do what you want as far as Brexit is concerned, but we do not—
Order. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman meant that hon. Members can choose, because when he says “you”, he means me, and he knows that I have no such choice.
I am making it clear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the people in England can choose what they like in this regard, but that we do not consent to Scotland being taken out of the European Union. We have a mandate from the people of Scotland that says we have the right to determine our future, yet we have the callous disregard of this Government, who have so far refused to grant a section 30 licence so that we can have a choice over our own future. Not only are they frustrating the will of the Scottish people to have that referendum on our future, but we now find that they are seeking to take powers back from our Parliament—[Interruption.] I can hear a Conservative Member saying that we have had our referendum, but the point is that when we had our referendum in 2014, we were promised that we would stay as members of the European Union, that we would be respected within this Union and that we were going to get a powerhouse Parliament that would be the strongest Parliament in the world. The opposite has happened, however, and when the facts change, people in Scotland have the right to change their mind.
What the Government do not seem to recognise is that support for the SNP and for independence is gathering momentum in Scotland—[Interruption.] Conservative Members can chortle, but the reality is that many people who did not support Scottish independence in 2014 have rightly changed their minds. They have the choice of a future with Scotland being a member of the European Union and a law-abiding, independent country that accepts its responsibilities in a global world. They have a choice of creating a fairer society and of coming out of the covid crisis and building our economy. It is that choice and that clear vision that we offer, against what has been done to Scotland by this Conservative Government. I can tell this Government that what they are doing with this Bill is absolutely determining that the people of Scotland will make that choice and, yes, we will become an independent country, because we want no future with the disrespect that we see day in, day out from the Conservative Government to our Parliament in Edinburgh.
The more Conservative Members chortle, the more the support for Scottish independence will rise, and they know that. I heard the Minister say that this Parliament is Scotland’s Parliament too, but, as my right hon. Friend will know, an opinion poll came out today. Does the Minister want to know what is in that opinion poll? Four times as many Scots now support the Scottish Parliament over this Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government’s aggressive Unionism and undermining of our Parliament has failed, and that all it is doing is raising support for independence?
My hon. Friend is correct. I am sure that when he goes back to his constituency and speaks to people, he is finding, as I am, that we are being encouraged to get on with it. People have seen enough. They have seen what is happening to Scotland under this Conservative Government and, as I said earlier, we are having none of it.
So tonight, just as there was during Second Reading, there is a fundamental choice for every Member across the House. This is now the last chance to salvage some dignity and respect for democracy in this place. Leaving it to the other place would be a complete dereliction of duty. This is the democratically elected House, and it is our job to oppose this undemocratic piece of law.
Of course I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the Bill. It is a nonsense and a rogues’ charter, as I said in a previous debate, but would he also encourage Members of the House of Lords, who have historically played a role in defending the rule of law, to ensure that they do their best to improve this legislation if that is possible?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that call, but we should not be relying on the Members of the House of Lords; they are unelected. The fact is that this place has not done its job to defend the rule of law, or to protect devolution. I feel for Labour Members who were responsible, under Blair’s Government, for bringing devolution in, because everything that was established under that programme has been undermined. There is a real call to everyone in Scotland, regardless of whether they voted for the SNP in the past, to recognise the maxim that power devolved is power retained.
People in the past have said to me, “Could Westminster shut down the Scottish Parliament?” I have argued in the past that that would be fanciful. Nobody could believe that our Parliament could be attacked in such a way, but what is happening with this Bill is that our Parliament, which has had the support of the people of Scotland—
It is being usurped. It is not getting more power—read the Bill. Read clauses 46 and 47, and read clause 48, which takes away from Scotland the powers that we have over state aid. When I look at the Government Benches, it really is Trumpesque—twisting the truth beyond reality.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most harmful aspects of the Bill is set out in the explanatory notes? They state:
“The Bill will be a protected enactment under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006. It will be an entrenched enactment under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. This means that it cannot be modified by the Devolved Legislatures, and so it will not be open to those legislatures to disapply the provisions of the Bill, or modify their effect.”
We are stuck with it, and this Government can continue to make things worse if they choose to do so. It is taking it out of the Scottish Parliament’s hands.
My hon. Friend is correct. It is perhaps worth reminding the House, in this context, that we have the joint ministerial committees, which recognise their responsibility to put frameworks in place.
I hear the hon. Lady saying that they have done, and she is quite right about that, because the Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast recognised the need to work together, where it was appropriate, in creating the circumstances to ensure that there was continuation of a market across these islands. The commitment that I make, and that my party and my Government make, is that we will work constructively with the Government in London to ensure that that happens, but the rug has been pulled from under that by a UK Government who have introduced this Bill, who legislate for the market that they want to create and who attack the fact that we have provisions in Scotland in areas such as the environment, food standards and building standards, which we can no longer defend.
There will be a race to the bottom in accepting the lowest standards, and there is not a single thing that we can do about it. There is not a single thing that we can do to protect our food standards once this takes place. The Secretary of State is shaking his head, but we already have differences in, for example, pasteurised milk. What will happen post this? We will not have the ability to keep the uniqueness of our regulations. What happens to support for our crofters and farmers, for example?
The responsibility falls tonight on this House to do the right thing. I obviously understand if those on the Government Benches are unwilling to take advice from me and my party, but they would do well to listen to the strength of the arguments emanating from some on their own Benches. During Committee, the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, gave a powerful and insightful analysis of the dangers of this legislation. Her words are worth repeating for those left on the Conservative Benches who are not yet card-carrying members of Cummings and the Prime Minister’s ideological cabal. She concluded her remarks by warning:
“I consider that, in introducing clauses 41 to 45, the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought to the long-term impact on the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation and puts its future at risk.”—[Official Report,
Those are stark words from the former Prime Minister on what the Government are doing to trash the reputation of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead and I may not agree on much, but few could deny that not only were those words powerful, but they are very likely to be proven prophetic.—[Interruption.] I hear a comment, “Too long. It is not fair on everyone else.” I will tell Labour Front Benchers what is not fair. It is what has been done to Scotland tonight. I have the right, as the leader of the Scottish National party at Westminster, to make sure our voices are heard, and I tell the House that the SNP voices will be heard and will be heard without apology.
Despite the bluff and bluster we have repeatedly heard, none of us are fooled that this is some kind of benign business Bill. We know the real intent of this legislation: after 21 years of devolution, the Tories are stripping powers from our Scottish Parliament. The Tories did not support devolution and now they see the popularity of the Scottish Government and they do not like it. It is little wonder why, because that support for the Scottish Government stands in direct contrast to the unpopularity of Tory Governments from Westminster.
Earlier today, the Scottish social attitudes survey showed that public trust in the Scottish Government to act in Scotland’s best interest was at more than four times the trust shown in the UK Government. The survey, conducted in 2019-20, before lockdown, shows that people were nearly five times more likely to say that the Scottish Government should have more influence on how the country is run than that the UK Government should. Some 61% of people trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland’s best interest, which compares with a record low of 15% for the UK Government—and you can bet your boots that after what has happened tonight it will be a lot lower now than the 15% that was recorded.
That is a reasonable question for the hon. Gentleman to ask, but if the right hon. Gentleman were to filibuster, it would not be in order and I would not allow him to do it. He is not filibustering; he is making a very powerful argument. I do note the hon. Gentleman’s point that the right hon. Gentleman has spoken for twice as long as the other Front Benchers, and he will appreciate that a great many other people would like to make a contribution to this important debate tonight. However, that is not a matter for me. If the right hon. Gentleman has the floor, he can speak for as long as he wishes, but I know that he is both honourable and a gentleman, and that he will bear in mind that while he has the floor other people do not have the opportunity to speak.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think we had a demonstration there from the Conservative Benches that Members from Scotland should sit down and shut up, and that we should not be heard in this House. [Interruption.] I say to Gary Sambrook that there is a very easy fix to that: let’s have the section 30 order, let’s have the referendum on Scottish independence and we can say goodbye to you—thank you and good night.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not care for the polling numbers I referenced, and he does not care for devolution. After all, he is the architect of this Bill. [Interruption.] “Parliamentary etiquette”—my goodness! Devolution has been butchered and I hear Conservative Members talking about etiquette—what a load of keech. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has set out his agenda: Scotland is to be dealt with, the Scottish Parliament is to have its wings clipped, and Westminster is to take back control and wants to give itself spending powers over our devolved matters.
I am interested in my right hon. Friend’s view on the subject of keech. Does he agree that if Government Members want us to go, there is a very elegant and convenient solution, and it is right in front of them: Scottish independence? Support for it is on the rise, and then we will be quite happily out of this place.
My hon. Friend is right. Those on the Government Benches know that a referendum is coming; we should just get on with it.
This Bill gives Westminster direct spending control in devolved areas in Scotland—in health, education, housing and transport—and the people of Scotland know from long and bitter experience that the Tories cannot be trusted to spend money in Scotland. The Tories will look after their own interests. They will never support Scotland’s interests, as tonight demonstrates. The passing of this Bill gives the Tories free rein to bypass Scotland’s Parliament and the democratic priorities of the Scottish people.
The democratic principle of the right to choose our own form of governance is at the heart of what is at stake if the Tories force this legislation through tonight. They can try to deny it all they like, but it is the Tories themselves who are breaking the constitutional settlements that have been democratically supported across these islands. This legislation rips apart Scotland’s claim of right, which enshrined the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. That claim of right was debated on an SNP motion in the last Parliament, which was passed without objection.
It is a long-held principle that sovereignty in Scotland rests with the people of Scotland, not with Westminster. That historic right has its roots in the declaration of Arbroath and formed the basis of the determination in the case of MacCormick v. the Crown by Lord Cooper, when, as Lord President of the Court of Session, he gave his opinion that
“the principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law”.
The principle of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland is under attack in this Bill.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are plenty of reasons to oppose this legislation that do not necessarily involve the case for Scottish independence?
The fact is that, as a consequence of the attack on the powers of Scotland’s Parliament, people in Scotland are making the determination that they wish our country to become independent as soon as possible.
This Bill undermines the settled will of the people of Scotland, who voted in a referendum on the basis of our Parliament having control over spending in devolved matters. It is that fundamental—it is that serious. This is a defining moment. The UK Government are attempting to block the sovereign right of the Scottish people to decide Scotland’s future.
It is great to hear my right hon. Friend remind the House that the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament is a purely English doctrine. Does he agree that, in seeking to interfere with the inherent supervisory jurisdiction of the Court of Session, the Bill also potentially breaches article 19 of the treaty of Union between Scotland and England?
That may well be right. My hon. and learned Friend has much experience of these matters. I would simply say that if the House passes this Bill tonight, it really does not seem to care about law and treaties.
I feel like a Pez dispenser of clarification on the Good Friday agreement. In discussing sovereignty, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not an ornament on the shelf? The Good Friday agreement, being endorsed by the people of Ireland north and south, is in fact sovereign as regards Northern Ireland. Does he further agree that this Bill not only does not protect the Good Friday agreement but offends each of its strands and its principles of democratic process, respect for differences and the rule of law?
Absolutely—I fundamentally agree with the hon. Lady. We all look on with alarm at what could happen if the Good Friday agreement is disrespected. We give every good wish to our friends on the island of Ireland that the peace is maintained, but there is no question that the Government are playing with fire.
Madam Deputy Speaker, time is short so I must now move on. It is pretty ironic that at the very same moment the Tories are robbing the Scottish people of their sovereign rights, those behind this power grab are using the very same arguments on sovereignty to impose their extreme Brexit agenda. In February, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove lectured us:
“the experience of history tells us that the countries with the maximum amount of control over their own destinies are the best equipped to succeed economically and, indeed, to secure a greater degree of equity for all their citizens.”—[Official Report,
If the Minister holds that to be true, then it ought to be true for Scotland. Yet, through this very Bill, the UK Government are trying to rob those rights and those powers from Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament. The best that can be said for this UK Government is that they at least wear their hypocrisy on their sleeves. When it comes to sovereignty, I have been looking back at what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said over the years. He said on
“give us back our sovereignty or we will walk out”.
If he thinks this matter is so crucial, why is he leading his Government to attack the Scottish Parliament? Why is he disregarding our sovereignty in Scotland?
Madam Deputy Speaker, we will push our amendment tonight to defend democracy, to defend Scotland’s interests, to defend against this bare-faced attack on our Parliament’s powers. We know that the vast majority of Scotland’s MPs and the Scottish public will be with us. What of the six Scottish Tories, though? Will they stand up for Scotland? Will they stand up for our Parliament? Tonight is their chance to join with us, to reject this power grab, to reject Westminster’s trampling over the devolution settlement, to respect that the Scottish Parliament should determine spending on devolved matters. A failure to join with us will show that the so-called Scottish Tories have reverted to type and reverted to what they have traditionally been: hostile to devolution.
Let me conclude by putting this in context. Over the past number of years, Scotland’s people have watched on as Westminster ignored their views on Brexit, launched power grab after power grab, and undermined our democratic rights. This legislation is the last straw. It leaves us with only one option and only one choice. A growing and consistent majority of our people have now come to the same conclusion. They know that the only way to defend Scotland’s Parliament and powers is through independence.
Madam Deputy Speaker, the words of Charles Stewart Parnell, who used to sit on these Benches just two rows back, still ring true. Tonight, I direct these words to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I will do this with two lines in Gaelic and then give an English translation:
“Chan eil còir aig duine crìochan a chur air adhartas dùthcha. Chan eil còir aig duine innse do dhùthaich, ‘Gheibh sibh cho fada ri seo agus chan fhaigh na b’fhaide.’”
“No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation;
no man has a right to say to his country—thus far shalt thou go and no further.”
In the very few seconds I have left I will simply say, with regard to the speech by Edward Miliband, that he completely failed to answer my question. The Labour party has, in fact, on a number of occasions broken international law. He knows it. He could not answer, and did not attempt to answer, whether he thought the Iraq war was lawful.
The bottom line is that the completely irrelevant questions raised in relation to breaches of international law are completely unfounded. The reality is that this country has on occasion in the past, in its own national interest for the sake of preserving its sovereignty and its economic sovereignty, had to occasionally break international obligations. There is no doubt about that, but equally and by the same token this Bill is about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and preserving the economic sovereignty of the internal market and doing what it can to preserve the Union in all its character and territoriality. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North shakes his head, but the bottom line is that we have now got this Bill through. It has gone through with 100 votes time and again. That proves the point. This is the endorsement of the referendum. This is the endorsement of the manner in which the British people voted in the general election and that is the truth. We have won, and we will continue to pursue the independence of this country and to maintain its sovereignty.
Six hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. All Members must be as accurate as possible when they speak in the House, and none more so than Cabinet Ministers. Today, in response to my questions following his statement, the Education Secretary twice made statements that were incorrect. First, he said that
“we have made £100 million available for universities…to ensure that youngsters have digital access”.
That was not accurate. The £100 million funding is for devices for schools and some further education providers, not for universities. The Secretary of State was wrong in what he said. He also said that individual students could seek additional maintenance support from the Student Loans Company, and as far as I can tell that is not right either.
When I asked the Secretary of State about digital access this afternoon, he said that he was sorry I had missed the announcement. Well, I am sorry that he is apparently wrong about the detail of his portfolio. Have you had any indication, Madam Deputy Speaker, that he will return to the House to correct the record on these matters?
I appreciate the point that the hon. Lady is making, but it is not a point of order for the Chair; it is rather a continuation of the debate that took place this afternoon. But she has taken the opportunity to make the point that she wishes to draw to the attention of the House, and no doubt to Ministers, and she has succeeding in so doing.