Scottish Affairs Committee: “urgent action needed to end devolution stalemate”

The House Of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has just published their report looking into the impact of Brexit on devolution.

As things stand, the EU(Withdrawal) Bill won’t be given the consent of the Scottish Parliament. This means that unless there are urgent changes, then Westminster may have to sidestep Holyrood. This would cause a constitutional crisis and the committee thinks urgent action is needed to avoid this.

The main suggestions in the report are as follows.

Repatriation of powers

Ahead of the House of Common’s consideration of the devolution sections of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Scottish Affairs Committee has called on the UK Government to agree with the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations which powers being repatriated from Brussels will be subject to common UK frameworks, and which will be devolved directly to the Scottish Parliament. The Committee has called on the UK Government to publish the outcome of these discussions in time for the final Commons stage of the Bill, so that MPs have clarity about how the Bill will affect Scotland’s devolution settlement.

Agreement of common frameworks

The Committee has welcomed the Secretary of State for Scotland’s statement that, where it is agreed a UK-wide approach will be needed in areas previously covered by EU rules, these common UK frameworks would not be imposed by the UK Government. The UK Government must now work with the devolved administrations to agree these frameworks, and establish what new intergovernmental machinery will be needed to support them. The Committee has stated that common frameworks should require the consent of all relevant governments.

Use of delegated powers by UK ministers

The Committee has also recommended that UK ministers seek the consent of Scottish ministers before exercising delegated powers in devolved areas of responsibility.

So the Committee has stated that we urgently need an agreement between the two governments as to what repatriated EU powers are to be devolved.

Any common framework that is needed for powers to work has to be agreed by consensus between Westminster and the devolved administrations. Also, as we have talked about before, the EU(Withdrawal) Bill allows UK Ministers to change laws without consulting parliament. The report says that ministers should not be able to do this on laws that affect the devolved administrations without gaining consent from Holyrood.

Committee Chair Pete Wishart commented.

We have heard serious concerns about the impact the EU(Withdrawal) Bill could have on Scotland’s devolution settlement. The Scottish Government has been clear that it cannot recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the Bill as it is currently drafted, but we were encouraged by the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary’s desire to resolve outstanding issues, and the level of agreement between the two ministers on many areas. We welcome the efforts which are being undertaken by both sides to achieve this.

That said, we believe the Government needs to take urgent action to improve the Bill and provide greater clarity about the implications of this legislation for Scotland’s devolution settlement. Central to our recommendations is the importance of agreeing a way forward with the devolved administrations, and securing consent in relation to future UK-wide frameworks.

We hope that our report, which was agreed unanimously by our Committee of SNP, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs representing Scottish constituencies, will be of use to MPs as they consider the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and that the UK Government responds positively to the recommendations we have made.

We have been worried about the implications of the EU(Withdrawal) Bill on devolution since the bill was published.

In its current form, it plunders powers from Holyrood and it also allows Scottish laws to be changed unilaterally by UK ministers. It is unfair and undemocratic.

Hopefully, this report will make a difference and allow the Scottish Parliament to salvage something from Brexit by gaining more power from Holyrood and more influence at UK level.

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Bobby Hainey

Joint founder of Autonomyscotland. In my spare time I enjoy Road Cycling, Munro bagging and beer.

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