Legislative Consent

Scotland – in the House of Commons on 16th March 2022.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on legislation that has not received legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

The Westminster Parliament can and does legislate for all of the UK, and we have always sought to do so with the consent of the relevant devolved Parliament when we legislate in areas of devolved competence. The Scottish Parliament has passed legislative consent motions for seven Bills in this Session where the legislative consent motion process has been engaged. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the SNP Scottish Government made it quite clear that they would not grant LCMs for Brexit-related Bills. We understand their position even if we do not agree with it, but following Brexit, it is this Government’s duty to legislate sensibly for the whole of the United Kingdom, which has involved legislating without consent on a small number of occasions and may well mean doing so again in the future.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

That small number of occasions includes the Elections Bill, the Professional Qualifications Bill, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the withdrawal agreement itself. All were rejected by Scotland’s Parliament but are taking effect anyway because this Tory Government never really believed in devolution in the first place. So is this actually the end of the Sewel convention, and is ignoring the Scottish Parliament the new normal?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

Quite simply, we are not going to take any lessons on defending devolution from a party that wants to destroy it.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

This morning, as ever, we have heard a lot from the SNP about respecting the Scottish Parliament and ignoring the Scottish Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the height of disrespect for the permanent secretary of the Scottish Government, who remains accountable to the UK Cabinet Secretary and draws a six-figure salary, to refuse to appear in front of a Committee of the Scottish Parliament without giving a reasonable excuse as to why?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

I agree with my hon. Friend that reciprocal respect absolutely underpins the devolution settlement. As to the permanent secretary’s decision not to appear in front of the Committee, that is entirely a matter for her.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to join me in welcoming Dr Riches, who is watching our proceedings today. She is from the Royal Society and she is shadowing me as part of a pairing scheme. She is very welcome.

Holyrood unanimously approved a legislative consent motion for the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, which included an amendment from my Labour colleague Michael Marra urging the UK Government to remove a provision that would require ownership of land only from 2014 to be registered in Scotland registered, when the requirement is from 2004 in England. So if someone has laundered Putin’s dirty money in Scotland before 2014, they are in the clear. For example, Perthshire’s Aberuchill castle was bought by the Russian steel magnate Vladimir Lisin for over £5 million in 2005. He has been on the Treasury’s watchlist since 2008, but he is not covered. Vladimir Romanov, who bought Heart of Midlothian football club along with swathes of central Edinburgh, is allegedly hiding in Moscow under the protection of Putin. He would not be covered either, but both of them would be covered in England. Does the Secretary of State think that is right? What is he doing to implement the LCM amendment to sort this smugglers’ cove in Scotland?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the Royal Society pairs who are in London. I also thank the Labour party for its support for the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill—it is hugely appreciated.

On the registration of property, England and Wales changed the rules for transparency of ownership in 1999, but in Scotland they were changed in 2014. The problem we have is that, if we go back before 2014, there is a risk that third parties who did not know they were engaging with an overseas entity that was non-compliant could be hurt. That hurt would be for something they were engaged in unwillingly, and we must protect those third parties. That is the reason why we have not gone back before 2014, and the Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, which reviewed the draft legislation, agreed with that, but I have every sympathy with the points the hon. Gentleman makes.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sure that anomaly could be sorted to ensure that we do not hurt unsuspecting third parties. One of the most important ways to clamp down on illicit Russian money and influence in the UK is through the reform of Companies House. Despite Labour’s attempts, the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 does not contain such reforms, but they are important, because Scottish limited partnerships, which were set up for Scottish farmers in the 19th century, remain an outdated and opaque vehicle of ownership that is used in the 21st century to obscure beneficial ownership. There is widespread support for that change, but the Government refused to act. Will the Secretary of State commit now to reforming Scottish limited partnerships and wider company law so that we can see who actually owns the companies and shut down those laundering loopholes?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman will also know that the UK Government clamped down on the abuse of Scottish limited partnerships in 2018, but we want to do more, and early in the next Session of Parliament there will be an updated economic crime Bill and further measures will be taken. He is absolutely right that those partnerships were being used by foreign individuals and companies to launder money. We know that. The reforms in 2018 increased transparency and put more stringent checks on the individuals forming those companies, but, hopefully with the support of the Labour party, we will tackle them in the next Session of Parliament.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

The Scottish National party likes to present itself as the defender of devolution, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an inherent contradiction between that position and its desire to rip our United Kingdom completely apart? Does he also agree that it is the UK Government who are promoting devolution, including the transfer of powers regained from the European Union?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that I absolutely agree.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Is it not the truth that Scotland has never experienced such sustained attacks on our democracy and our democratic institutions? As we have heard, legislative consent is now almost dead and buried, a feature of history, with Westminster now legislating in devolved areas. What is next in the Secretary of State’s sights?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

There are various Bills that come through that are Brexit related: the Professional Qualifications Bill, which is linked to trade Bills, a reserved matter, would be one of them, and the Subsidy Control Bill would be another where we will not get an LCM. We know that, but we need to bring in subsidy controls, because state aid has reverted to the United Kingdom from the EU and it is a UK matter.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Secretary of State does not get an LCM because Scotland’s directly elected representatives do not agree with it and do not want it. That is why LCMs are withheld. Everybody can see what is going on, and everybody can see his attempts to undermine our democracy. Is it not the case that his muscular Unionism has been a disaster for Scottish democracy? In fact, it has even been a disaster for the Scottish Conservatives, who may or may not now have confidence in their Prime Minister. Is it not also the case that the Scottish people have no confidence in this Government to defend our parliamentary institutions?

Photo of Alister Jack Alister Jack The Secretary of State for Scotland

Absolutely not. We do the right things for Scotland. On the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, we brought the Bill forward without an LCM to protect Scotland’s trade with the rest of the United Kingdom. The two principles that underpin it are mutual recognition and non-discrimination. That is because 60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK and a lot of jobs rely on it.