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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 9:30 pm, 2nd May 2018

But I will not. If the noble Lord wishes me to elaborate on the operation of the sunset clauses, I would be quite content to write to him. At this stage, perhaps I can continue—with the encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths—to address the question of the Scottish Government.

We are extremely grateful that we have achieved consensus with the Welsh Government and will be able to take this forward with their wholehearted agreement. I will come on to one or two points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, in a moment. As far as we are concerned, the door is still open for the Scottish Government, and we would be anxious to see them come through it so that we can take this forward with the agreement of all the Administrations in the United Kingdom. However, we are where we are at the present time. As regards their proposed amendments, they would, by different routes, result in a situation in which one of the devolved Administrations would effectively hold a veto over the implementation of UK-wide legislation for the maintenance of the UK internal market. That, I respectfully suggest, could not and would not be appropriate.

The exit from the EU raises complex questions with regard to the construction and application of the Scotland Act 1998 because, in 1998, such an exit was never contemplated. Reference has been made to Schedules 4 and 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 and the mechanisms for their amendment, but, as we were reminded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, those are not the only mechanisms that impact upon the competence of the Scottish Parliament. We have to look at the terms of Section 29 of the 1998 Act, which as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Mackay, observed raises issues with regard to territoriality in respect of the competence of the Scottish Parliament. I do not want to go into the detail of that at present, but one notices that its competence is limited in that respect, and by reference to EU law as well. Therefore, we do not consider that, at the end of the day, we can appropriately accept a situation in which the devolved Administration can exercise a veto over the exercise of power by the United Kingdom Parliament in situations where it is being exercised for the benefit of the UK as a whole. I hope that that goes some way to explaining, without looking at the complexities of the 1998 Act, why we do not feel we are in a position to accept the position expressed by the Scottish Government on this point.

We simply regret the fact that, despite the very significant efforts—I underline “significant”—of the representatives of the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government in producing an outline agreement, it has not been possible to persuade the Scottish Government to join us on that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, suggested that this might reflect a lack of trust. As I have observed on previous occasions, this is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of constitutional propriety. Whatever view one takes of the devolved settlement and of where we are with regard to the legislation on that, at the end of the day it is not appropriate to accept that one of the devolved Administrations could effectively exercise a veto over legislation for the benefit of the other members of the Union—namely England, Wales and Northern Ireland.