David Mundell’s comments confirm what not just the Scottish Government but the Welsh Government have been saying for months, which is that, far from the powers “bonanza” that the secretary of state has promised, the UK Government seems intent on undermining the founding principles of devolution. The UK Government should not be allowed to use Brexit as cover to take powers in areas that are clearly devolved, such as agriculture, fisheries, justice and the environment. We have made it clear that we are not opposed in principle to UK-wide arrangements where they are necessary and appropriate, but those arrangements must be by agreement, not by imposition.
“Any plan to move control of these areas to Westminster after Brexit is alarming”?
What clarification has the UK Government provided over the 111 devolved policy areas that could be controlled by the UK Government if the EU withdrawal bill is not amended? I was somewhat gobsmacked to see at number 78 on the list “Onshore hydrocarbons licensing”—in other words, fracking—which was one of the core powers recommended for further devolution by the Smith commission. Is that acceptable?
No, it is not acceptable. First, I share the concern expressed that Friends of the Earth Scotland has expressed. Devolution has allowed for distinctive and ambitious Scottish approaches to environmental standards, to climate change—which we have just been discussing—and to food quality, fisheries, farming support, and many other areas. Any threat to that is completely unacceptable.
The list of 111 areas that are brought into play by the withdrawal bill was drawn up not by the Scottish Government but by the UK Government. There are many areas in the list that I think illustrate to people why the Scottish Government is so exercised by this. Although it might suit the Conservatives to suggest that it is somehow just the Scottish National Party that is expressing concern over this, we have the Welsh Labour Government saying exactly the same thing and we have a range of constitutional and legal experts saying that this represents the power grab that we have described.
On Tuesday of this week, the Scottish and Welsh Governments put forward a set of amendments that would prevent that power grab. I hope that the UK Government responds positively to those amendments so that we can get the bill into a state where the Scottish Government can recommend legislative consent. However, let me repeat—if the bill stays in the state that it is in just now, there is no way that I or this Government will recommend to the Parliament that it approves the bill.