The House of Commons is currently considering the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and the Scottish Affairs Committee has just published a Report looking at the implications of this Bill for Scotland’s devolution settlement. Committee Chair Pete Wishart outlines the Committee’s work on this subject and sets out the Report’s main conclusions and recommendations.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
The UK Government has introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to give effect to the UK’s decision to leave the EU. As well as repealing the European Communities Act, which provides for the UK’s membership of the EU, the Bill would convert EU law, as it stands at the moment of the UK’s departure from the EU, into domestic law.
The Bill would create a restriction on the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence, so that it cannot legislate contrary to retained EU law, and provide for this restriction to be reduced by Orders in Council agreed by the UK and Scottish parliaments. The Bill would also create delegated powers for UK and Scottish ministers to “correct” retained EU law, and make legislative changes necessary to implement any withdrawal agreement.
The Committee’s inquiry
Because of the substantial implications this Bill has for Scotland’s devolution settlement, and in particular the approach which it takes to the repatriation of areas of decision-making from Brussels, the Scottish Affairs Committee decided to hold a short inquiry looking at the Bill, to inform its consideration by the House of Commons.
To inform our Report we took evidence from expert witnesses—including the Director and Associate Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change—as well as the Scottish Government’s Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
We heard serious concerns about the impact the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill could have on Scotland’s devolution settlement, and 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. 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.
The Committee’s conclusions and recommendations
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. We have recommended:
• That the UK Government agrees with the devolved administrations what areas should be subject to common frameworks and which ones can be devolved, and bring forward a plan to devolve all powers not covered by those frameworks to the Scottish Parliament.
• That any UK wide common frameworks must be agreed between the UK Government and the devolved administration, with all governments participating in those discussion as equal partners.
• That UK ministers seek the consent of Scottish ministers before exercising delegated powers in devolved areas of responsibility.
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.
For further information, read the full Report by the Scottish Affairs Committee, as well as the evidence they received on this subject, on their website