Clause 13 - Enforcement powers in relation to ships

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 9 September 2014.

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Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 11:00, 9 September 2014

I was reminded, in the contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, of the capacity of Donald Dewar in a Bill Committee to take a small probing amendment and turn it into a major constitutional crisis. He usually used such devices to reveal that the Government had not thought the thing through, and my right hon. Friend’s questions show that that is true of this Bill. The Minister’s response, in  which she referred to the devolved parts of the UK, shows why there is such an upsurge in anger in Scotland, which may split the United Kingdom up.

Leaving out the rest of the UK waters, as the hon. Member for Foyle pointed out well, would leave us with a massive problem, particularly if there is a yes vote on 18 September. We would have a putative independent country to the north, covering a large part of the waters around the UK, with absolutely no fixed memorandum for how the Bill would operate. It may be that the arrogance and complacency of the Government, and perhaps even of everyone down here in the Westminster bubble, have led them to believe that that would never happen and that people would never do it. I hope that they do not, but it still leaves a big question: why is this not a Sewel Bill? Why have the Government not seriously considered introducing a Sewel motion to the effect that we would come up with something that covered all the United Kingdom waters, and particularly all the waters in Scotland? That would normally be done with a matter that affects Scotland. Or are we really saying that we only want to cover to wherever the border is—as we know, that is greatly disputed in the sea—so that ships can sail a few miles up the coast on the east or the west and nobody will pursue them, because they will be in Scottish waters rather than in English or Welsh waters? The Government have not thought that serious question through.

If the Minister—or anyone, in fact—had been listening to the words spoken by the First Minister and his colleagues since the Scottish National party became the majority party in 2007, he would understand their obsession with Margaret Thatcher’s selling off the rights of the Scottish people in the Scottish fishing industry to the EU when she was Prime Minister. Some say that she did so for the rebate. That basically gave the EU sole competence over fisheries around Scotland, and it is a great problem. The First Minister recently said that the first priority of a possible independent Scotland would be to seize back control of the seas around Scotland. That is a serious matter.

That is the ambition of a possible independent Scotland. For me, as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, there has always been a problem when the UK Government inflict on Scotland problems that it was not consulted about and not designed to deal with: although we receive statements from Scottish Ministers about whether the devolved Assembly have been consulted about a proposal, we are never told what the devolved Assembly said; we are just told that they were consulted. We have to assume that such consultations affect the explanatory memorandums produced by British Ministries.

In this case, we are putting together a Bill. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, who asked some salient questions earlier, I do not know a great deal about the minutiae of the seas, but I do know quite a lot about the politics of Scotland and the sensitivities of the Scottish Administration of any colour—whether a Lib Dem-Labour alliance or the SNP—to the fact that they were not properly brought on board in the designing of Bills in this place that would affect Scotland. To overcome that problem, we came up with a great idea. Lord Sewel, who was formerly the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities before he was  elevated to the House, said he was sensitive to that problem, having tried to hold together all the local authorities. He said we should have what are commonly known as the Sewel processes, by which we indicate by means of a motion that we are going to put together a Bill that will have an effect in Scotland, and after properly designing the Bill and consulting the Scottish Administration, we put into our law the consequences for Scotland. It is clear that we have not done that for the Bill. So massive questions are raised just by the probing amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn.

What is the Government’s response to the possibility that we might have an independent Scotland following 18 September? Are we really so arrogant that we thought if we just ignored them, it would not happen? Did we not think that maybe even if it did not happen, the maritime section would put Scottish waters at risk if they were not covered in the Bill?

It was quite clear from the evidence to the Joint Committee of Jenny Marra, the Member moving an anti-slavery Bill in Scotland—a private Member’s Bill that has been taken on by the Scottish Government—that there is nothing in the Scottish Bill to deal with these issues. That is such a huge omission that, as it clearly is the aspiration of Scotland to have a Bill that is parallel to ours that would make all of the UK secure against human trafficking, and as this measure is so important to our Bill, either the measure should have been discussed and included in the Scottish Bill, or a Sewel motion should have been introduced in this place, stating that what we pass in this place for England and Wales applies to Scotland. Possibly, the hon. Member for Foyle might feel the same way.