My Lords, the UK Government have frequent engagement with the Scottish Government. UK and Scottish Ministers are due to meet on
My Lords, next week sees the 20th anniversary of the first elections to the devolved Scottish Parliament. I am sure that the whole House would want to congratulate the civil servants and legislators who, despite all the political ups and downs of the last 20 years, created such a stable institution that has legislated and budgeted on a consistent basis, despite one party rarely having a political majority. The success of the scheme was based on debate and discussion about the constitutional convention and very well thought-through legislation. In view of the fact that, whatever happens with Brexit, there needs to be a good, hard look at the UK’s constitutional arrangements and our relationship with the public, is it not the case that a model such as a constitutional convention, looking on an all-party basis at improving the governance of the United Kingdom as a whole, might be a way forward in these times?
The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the sterling efforts of all those civil servants who brought about a functioning and sustainable Scottish Parliament and, indeed, a Welsh Assembly Government. There has been extraordinary progress and it is right that we recognise that this is a process, not an event. Last year, the Government set up, alongside the Welsh and Scottish Governments, an intergovernmental review and it will be reporting soon. Let us see what comes of that. However, the noble Lord is correct that this is a process and we cannot let this be the end of it. We must make sure that it continues to deliver as we would like it to do.
My Lords, notwithstanding that the Labour Party campaigned in 1978 on a slogan of “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead”, will my noble friend use the opportunity of the meeting with Scottish Ministers to discuss their plans to secede from the United Kingdom while remaining subject to control by Brussels and, in particular, ask them to explain how they will avoid a hard border between England and Scotland? Doing so might help my noble friend with his problems over the backstop.
I will certainly raise several of those issues. I do not think it will surprise my noble friend to know that Scottish Ministers themselves often raise these very issues. The meeting I had was focused rather more on the environment and farming; none the less, the issues he raises are important and they will be part of the ongoing debate between the Scottish and UK Governments.
My Lords, on the relationship between devolution and separation, referred to by the noble Lord, will the Minister confirm that after 17 years of devolution, when the Scottish people were asked to decide whether to separate from the United Kingdom or stay in it, they decisively decided to stay in it?
The noble Lord is spot on. The Scottish people were very canny and very clever, and they voted very correctly.
My Lords, this time last year, during the final stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, never a day seemed to go by when we did not discuss common UK frameworks. Can the Minister perhaps update us on what is happening? It seems to have gone quiet. How will he ensure that in areas of shared responsibility there is parity of esteem and there will not be direction from Westminster?
The noble and learned Lord is correct. There needs to be parity of esteem in all these discussions. The intergovernmental review should look at the functioning of the frameworks. The existing joint ministerial committees can be improved, and I suspect that the improvements will emerge from the intergovernmental review.
My Lords, the Scottish Government decided to lower the blood alcohol limit for drivers, but I have not been able to find out whether that has been successful in reducing the casualty rate. Can my noble friend tell us whether it has been successful? If not, will he undertake to write to me with the stats?
I will very much undertake to write to my noble friend with those statistics—I do not have them to hand.
My Lords, we should take this opportunity to congratulate those present who were Members of the first Scottish Parliament. We should go beyond intergovernmental discussions to look into inter-parliamentary contact, and take this opportunity to consider a more federal approach to the UK. Having set that in motion in 1997, we cannot now step back and say that nothing else can change. This is a perfect opportunity to make those changes. I hope the Minister will agree.
It is important that we continue to learn about what is going on. It is also true that, while we have very strong working relationships Government to Government, that might not be as well established Parliament to Parliament. There is no doubt that there would be a benefit in that—the learning of this House could well be useful in informing the Scottish Parliament. Beyond that, it will be difficult to see until we have the results of the intergovernmental review.
My Lords, the Scottish Government have taken a lead in agreeing that universal credit should be paid separately to each member of a couple—not least to protect women surviving domestic abuse. However, they are wholly dependent on the Department for Work and Pensions and changes to the IT system to enable them to implement the policies. What active steps are the department taking to help the Scottish Government do this, and thereby enable the DWP itself to learn from Scottish experience? If the Minister cannot answer, could a letter be written that can go into the Library?
The UK Government have been very diligent in reaching out to the Scottish Government on the devolution of benefits. This is for one very important reason: people’s lives are at stake, and their well-being is at the heart of this. I will of course send a letter to the noble Baroness setting out the answer to that question in greater detail, but please be assured that the UK Government take their role very seriously—as indeed do the Scottish Government.