Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Scotland Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 22nd February 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 10:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for the amendments that they have tabled. I hope that the Committee will indulge me if, given this late hour, I am relatively brief in responding to them.

As has already been explained, Amendment 80 would require the Secretary of State to lay a statement before Parliament stating that the Scottish Government and Scottish authorities have made appropriate arrangements in relation to the exercise of the powers which have been devolved to them before parts of the Bill are commenced. The Government regard this amendment as against the spirit of how devolution operates. Moreover, this is an enabling Bill: constitutional legislation which transfers legislative competence to the Scottish Parliament and executive competence to the Scottish Ministers. There will be no change in law until such time as the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers use the powers devolved to them. It will therefore be for them to decide whether they have made appropriate arrangements before doing so. I have discussed this point with the noble Earl—namely, how we ensure an effective transition. It requires the co-operation of the two Governments to discuss those issues. A number of mechanisms are in place to support a smooth transfer of powers and joint working. We have already debated how that works in relation to welfare and I expect similar joint working with regard to the Crown Estate.

Although I fully understand why the noble Earl has tabled Amendment 81, if we intend for devolution to be meaningful we must not tie the hands of the Scottish Government. We cannot on the one hand devolve the management of the Estate and, on the other, dictate the way it is managed. It is right that the Scottish Government are able to manage the Crown Estate in the best interests of the people of Scotland. However, I agree that the Scottish assets must be managed responsibly and it is the duty of this House and the people of Scotland to call on the Scottish Government to be clear about their plans for the future management of the assets. In that regard I, like many other noble Lords, met with the Scottish islands councils. I believe that the islands councils have met the Scottish Government today. I am not up to date with the responses they got, but it is important that we get answers and that the Scottish Government fulfil the commitments that all the parties who were signatories to the Smith commission entered into, to make sure that those are delivered. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is meeting the Deputy First Minister tomorrow and will press him on exactly that point. I will be happy to report back to the noble Earl what answers he gets.

On Amendment 82, noble Lords will recall that the Smith commission agreement stated that the parties were strongly of the view that abortion policy should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Government’s response to the agreement highlighted that productive conversations were already taking place between officials and Ministers on the scope and shape of future work between the two Governments on whether abortion and other issues should be devolved. On Report in the other place in July, the Secretary of State for Scotland provided a further update on the process and highlighted that, in his view, there is no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not be able to decide an issue of this significance, given that it has demonstrated its ability to do so on numerous other significant occasions.

I understand that the topic of abortion policy is one that many people feel strongly about. The amendment tabled seeks to delay devolution of the power to legislate in relation to abortion until 12 months from the date of the Act being passed. Under Clause 69 of the Bill, the abortion clause would come into force two months from the date of the Act being passed. We have reflected very carefully on the concerns that have been raised about this. However, in the Government’s view there is no convincing reason why abortion policy should not be devolved nor why commencement should be delayed for 10 months. At the point of devolution the policy will not change: the current legislation will remain in force until such time as the Scottish Parliament decides to legislate. The Scottish Government have clearly stated that they have no plans to change the law on abortion. The First Minister has made very clear statements in that regard. They recognise the case for gestational limits to remain aligned with England and Wales. The Secretary of State for Scotland has already spoken and written to women’s organisations. Engagement will continue with interested parties as the matter is taken forward and I understand that Scottish Ministers have recently met representatives of a number of stakeholder organisations. Therefore I respectfully ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.