Clause 50 - Power to change or clarify existing traffic legislation

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 19 March 2024.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 11:15, 19 March 2024

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 50, page 33, line 18, after “that – ” insert—

“(za) is not an Act of the Scottish Parliament;

(zb) is not an instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament;

(zc) is not an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru;

(zd) is not an instrument made under an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru;”

This amendment would mean that the Secretary of State could not amend legislation of the devolved administrations for the purposes of changing or clarifying traffic legislation in respect of automated vehicles.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 7, in clause 50, page 33, line 22, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must obtain and lay before Parliament the written consent of the Scottish Government to make regulations under this section which amend—

(a) an Act of the Scottish Parliament,

(b) any instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

(5) The Secretary of State must obtain and lay before Parliament the written consent of the Welsh Government to make regulations under this section which amend—

(a) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru,

(b) any instrument made under an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of devolved governments before exercising the Clause 50 power in relation to devolved legislation.

Amendment 8, in clause 50, page 33, line 22, at end insert—

“(4) The Scottish Government may, by regulations, make provision for the purpose of changing or clarifying whether, how or in what circumstances an Act of the Scottish Parliament or any instrument made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament applies to the user-in-charge of a vehicle.

(5) The Welsh Government may, by regulations, make provision for the purpose of changing or clarifying whether, how or in what circumstances an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru or any instrument made under an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru applies to the user-in-charge of a vehicle.”

This amendment would extend the Clause 50 power to ministers of the devolved administrations.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

It is safe to say, Mr Vickers, that I was not expecting us to get to clause 50—[Laughter.] Luckily, I have a speech that I prepared earlier. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport in the Scottish Government and the operations manager of Transport Scotland are giving evidence on this very issue in the Scottish Parliament this morning. If I can pad this out until 11.25 am, I will be able to bring some quotes to the Committee before we leave our deliberations on the amendments and clause 50.

I rise to speak to amendments 9, 7 and 8 in my name and those of my colleagues in Plaid Cymru. As I mentioned on Second Reading and briefly at the start of the sitting —it is very unusual for me or anyone else from the SNP to stand up during the deliberations on any Bill to say this—the devolved Administrations have for the most part worked happily with the UK Government on getting this Bill right for everyone across these isles, in line with the co-operative working between the Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission of England and Wales over the past couple of years. So it is disappointing, to say the least, that the UK Government appear to have ditched that view when drafting clause 50.

The devolved powers that are properly the preserve of the Scottish Parliament are quite clear, yet this clause would unilaterally overturn that settled state and instead place the Scottish Parliament and Government under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Transport and his or her colleagues. Since devolution and the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, it has been agreed among all parties that consent is required from Holyrood when the UK Government seek to legislate in devolved areas.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

This is an interesting point. There are a number of Bills whose provisions apply only to England or to England and Wales, and I have always thought there was an anomaly in terms of territorial extent and application. If someone is driving an autonomous vehicle, it seems slightly bizarre to have a different regulatory regime if they go over the border into Scotland or Wales. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and on page 12 of the explanatory notes I have highlighted in green the part that says:

“There is a convention that Westminster will not normally legislate with regard to matters that are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly without the consent of the legislature concerned.”

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that there has not been that consultation.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Of course, if there is any diversion between the regulations, the Scottish regulations will be better than any brought forward by DFT. I joke, but the Scottish Government—and presumably the Welsh Senedd—have been in discussions about this for a long time. In fact, the issues the Scottish Government have with clause 50 were recognised by the UK Government themselves. I say that not just because of the facts the hon. Gentleman pointed out in the explanatory notes, but because the Government themselves have said that clause 50 will require legislative consent. This is not the Scottish Government being uppity; the UK Government themselves have said that legislative consent would be required, but they have now ditched that approach and seek to implement clause 50 without seeking any legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament.

What has happened says so much about the Government’s approach to devolution in recent years and completely overturns that principle of devolution. Either we have devolution or we do not—it is not for the Government to pick and choose which parts of legislation devolution is applied to. Devolution should apply in those areas that are not listed in the Scotland Act 1998. It is simple as that, yet the Government seem to want to change the rules and move the goalposts at will to stymie devolution at almost every turn. They snatch power from a democratically elected Parliament and Government and give it to a Minister of the UK Government, who it is fair to say currently have zero mandate in Scotland. That may change come a future election, but at this point this Government have no real mandate in Scotland, and yet they seek to override the will of the elected Parliament of Scotland.

The amendments in my name and those of Plaid Cymru colleagues would remedy that democratic deficit by placing a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State to obtain consent from the Scottish Parliament and/or the Senedd before legislating in areas that are not properly theirs to legislate in. The Scottish Government have made it clear throughout the consultation and drafting process that working across borders on issues such as this—as alluded to by the hon. Member for Easington, who serves with me on the Transport Committee—is undoubtedly good sense, benefiting the automated vehicle sector and ultimately all consumers across these isles.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

The hon. Gentleman’s contribution is completely valid. I am slightly perplexed by this issue, so I will be interested in what the Minister has to say about the Government’s consultations with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly, for that matter. For the system to work, we need to bear in mind the key point about digitalising traffic regulation orders. What will happen? People will drive from England into Scotland and vice versa, but the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to require traffic regulation orders to be provided by traffic regulation authorities—

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.