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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat 8:30 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for tabling these amendments, in particular Amendments 77N and 77R. As he has said, these provisions take us in a direction in which we have not travelled so far under devolution. That is quite understandable because this is a very significant transfer of powers.

The use of the phrase “operating concurrently” has the potential to raise not only some constitutional issues, but practical issues in the relationship between the two Parliaments. If my understanding is correct, this will be a novel area where this Parliament is able retrospectively to amend what is in effect devolved legislation. Obviously that would be done in circumstances where agreement has broken down. The Scottish Government will have had a view on the practicability of implementing the powers that have been transferred to them, on who is able to receive universal credit and when. That cannot be done unless with consultation with the Secretary of State.

That is, of course, reasonable: it is an area where there was considerable political disagreement before the Bill came to Parliament, when the Scottish Government claimed that there were veto powers. I think there has been significant movement on both sides, so we have moved away from that political disagreement, but this situation may arise where the Scottish Government have a view, the Secretary of State has another and, in effect, if the Secretary of State believes that the Scottish Government is wrong, it is open to this Parliament to retrospectively amend devolved legislation. That would be a high-profile set of circumstances, so my noble friend is justified in asking the Government for a bit more information as to how the Secretary of State would define “practicable”. An enhanced requirement for the Secretary of State to state why he thinks measures would not be practicable to implement is very reasonable. As my noble friend said, the power to delay implementation is a significant power, in addition to the relationship that it would have with the Scottish Parliament.

Some lack of clarity remains as to whether, if that is amended devolved legislation, there would be a requirement on the Scottish Parliament to change the regulations it had made, or whether it effectively becomes a UK piece of legislation. If that is the case, it is no longer the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament to change it subsequently, if there are to be amendments. Clarification from the Minister on that would be helpful. One unintended consequence may well be that, if there is a regulation from this Parliament to amend a Scottish Parliament regulation, it in effect becomes a piece of UK legislation and not devolved legislation. Further clarification on those points would be greatly welcome.