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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 October 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19, Scottish Qualifications Authority National Qualifications 2020-21, Urgent Question, United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, South-west Scotland Transport Infrastructure


Contents


United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Before we proceed, I have to say that there is now no time in hand whatsoever, so I am afraid that, if members take interventions, they will have to absorb them into their allocated time.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22955, in the name of Michael Russell, on legislative consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

16:50  

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

Today, we are faced with no ordinary decision about whether to give or withhold approval for a Westminster bill, for this debate is actually about a decision regarding the value of the Scottish Parliament and the people whom we serve. It is about whether we are prepared to stand up for them or allow a United Kingdom Government to

“fundamentally overwrite, and undermine, a material part of the system of devolution that has operated in the UK for more than two decades”.

That devolution settlement came into being because of a decisive vote by the people of Scotland in 1997. I am happy to acknowledge Scotland’s debt to the Labour Party and to Donald Dewar, who legislated for that devolution referendum. My party campaigned with the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party in favour of establishing this institution. We did not agree on the process that led to that vote but, when the choice came, the Scottish National Party backed what the people of Scotland wanted and now, when that choice is again in front of us, we do so again.

I was part of that campaign and worked with many, including Alex Rowley, to persuade our fellow citizens to mark their ballot papers with a double yes. I am in the same company again, although I do not relish the circumstances. I am sure that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens will repeat today their commitment to what the people wanted then, as will we. Our vote will follow our voice. Alas, the Tories, no doubt, will again be true to their stance then—a stance that was taken directly against the will of the Scottish people. The Tories were against empowering their fellow citizens then, and they are still against doing that 23 years later. Leopards do not change their spots.

The Tories, having been rejected then, have gone on being rejected, most recently in last December’s Westminster election; yet, despite that, they still seek to take a wrecking ball to Scotland’s Parliament and Scotland’s democracy. That was not in their manifesto, but it was clearly in their minds then and always has been.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the internal market bill is very much about protecting jobs and investment in Scotland, which is absolutely critical?

Michael Russell

No, I do not. Indeed, The Ferret’s fact-checking service proves that that is not the case.

As I said, wrecking Scotland’s Parliament was not put to the Scottish people by the Conservatives, but it is what they intended to do, and it is what they are trying to do. The memorandum that is before us makes it clear that, if the bill becomes law,

“The legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament and the executive competence of Scottish Ministers as they have been understood since 1998 would in many respects cease to exist.”

As well as an assault on devolution, the bill is a recipe for regulatory incoherence and a race to the bottom. It is also a breach of international law. The fundamental principle of the ministerial code is that ministers must not knowingly break the law. That in itself is an incontrovertible reason why the Scottish ministers cannot recommend legislative consent for the bill, but I also argue that no member of a Scottish Parliament who is elected to serve the people of Scotland could ever recommend consent to such a bill.

Members will be familiar with the main provisions, but let me go through them. In parts 1 and 2, the bill contains sweeping new blanket mutual recognition and non-discrimination provisions. Regardless of the views of the Parliament or the wishes of the people of Scotland, they would require Scotland to accept lower standards relating to food, as pointed out by Food Standards Scotland; the environment, as pointed out by Scottish Environment LINK; and building materials, as pointed out by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. The scope of those powers can be unilaterally changed by UK ministers, and only by them.

There are new measures for mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which cause grave concern to bodies such as the General Teaching Council for Scotland. There is a new oversight body that is tasked with second-guessing the policy choices of the Parliament, including on public services such as the health service or public water supplies.

Measures in part 5 of the bill break international law and betray a cynical disregard for Northern Ireland, and is already alienating many, including the European Union.

There are sweeping new spending powers in part 6 that threaten the devolved Scottish budget and transfer decision making over areas of devolved spending from the Scottish Government to the UK Government. The fact that state aid will be reserved could affect, for example, agricultural subsidy, and the whole of the eventual act would be placed permanently beyond the powers of this Parliament to mitigate or ameliorate. For those reasons, the bill is wholly unacceptable and should be rejected.

The deceit that has been practised by the UK Government with regard to the bill is now a matter of public record, thanks to yesterday’s leak of documents that show the truth about how it was deliberately withheld from the devolved Governments.

There have been other deceits, too, the first of which is the ridiculous assertion that the bill represents a “power surge”. The opposite is true, as the explanatory notes make clear. In fact, there will be a new, blanket constraint on the exercise of the Parliament’s powers, and the scope of the constraints can be adjusted at any time at the discretion of UK Government ministers, regardless of other views.

Secondly, assurances have repeatedly been given that the bill will not lead to a race to the bottom in standards, but the UK currently enjoys high standards by virtue of European Union laws still applying during the transition period. Under the bill, if Scotland wished to maintain those standards, we would still be forced to recognise lower standards that were set elsewhere in the UK. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way. I am just coming to one of the member’s key assertions.

The UK Government has blocked every proposed move to provide legal guarantees that high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards would prevail.

Thirdly, I rebut the claim that the bill is necessary merely in order to replace at UK level the system of EU market rules. In fact, the bill introduces a system of unqualified powers for UK ministers to impose, in effect, rules on the whole of the UK, even in devolved areas, which is the very opposite of the principle of co-decision and agreement between sovereign member states that lies at the heart of the EU rules. The EU single market rules also recognise policy objectives alongside market considerations, and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are crucial aspects of them.

I turn to the issue of jobs. Mr Lockhart’s amendment says that 550,000 jobs will be protected by the bill. That is nonsense—in fact, it is nonsense on stilts, as was exposed on The Ferret’s fact-checking website last night. [Interruption.] Conservative members do not like the truth.

At the end of December, the UK and Scotland will leave the Brexit transition period. The transition is ending because of the astonishing and reckless decision of Boris Johnson to refuse the extension that was on offer, despite the fact that we are in a global pandemic and a deep economic recession. Even at this late stage, the possibility of leaving in the worst possible way, with no deal, remains. Even if a deal is reached, it will be a low deal that is vastly inferior to what we experience now and hugely disadvantageous to business and disruptive to everyday life.

The real jobs threat comes not from the devolved Administrations but from the Brexiteer ultras who have captured the Conservative Party and those members in this chamber who have meekly accepted their writ, undoubtedly because it saves their own jobs.

The way to avoid all that damage is not only clear but to hand. We can do so by returning to the voluntary common frameworks process that was devised by the devolved and UK Governments, on which it has been possible to make progress over the past few years, despite our differences over EU exit. Frameworks are based on the principles of equal negotiation and agreement. If there are any missing areas, as Michael Gove has claimed very late in the day, we commit ourselves to closing those gaps. We are also willing to act as though all the frameworks are already in force while they are being finalised, and I think that the same commitment is being made in Wales. If the UK Government acts in the same way, we could move on from the present impasse and the deepening crisis.

The bill is not only unacceptable to the devolved Governments; it is also unacceptable to a wide range of organisations and individuals across Scottish society who are deeply worried.

Of course, across the chamber, there are differing views on Scotland’s ultimate constitutional destination, but regardless of those views, we can come together today to say on behalf of the people of Scotland that we do not consent to the bill. We can stand up against this Tory power grab and urge the UK Government to change course.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees not to consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, as it reduces and constrains the competence of the Scottish Parliament and breaches international law.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Bruce Crawford, convener of the Finance and Constitution Committee, to open on behalf of the committee.

16:59  

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

I begin by thanking all the committee members for their hard work and commitment in completing so many reports this week. I also thank our clerks for the significant help and advice that they have provided in our work.

It is with some regret that I speak on behalf of only eight members of the committee this afternoon. As members know, I have always sought as convener to try, where possible, to reach a consensus on committee reports, and in the main we have managed to do that. However, there is a clear division of views on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill between the majority of the committee and our Conservative Party colleagues. That is disappointing, given that the other eight members of the committee have agreed that the bill undermines the whole basis of devolution.

Our view is that devolution cannot work if the Westminster Government simply imposes its view of how the UK’s constitutional arrangements should evolve following Brexit. Unfortunately, the bill aims to do just that, both in its substance and given the way that it has been handled.

Our most significant concern is with the market access principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination. The mutual recognition principle, in particular, is potentially much more far reaching than the equivalent EU principle, for three primary reasons. First, the list of exclusions from the application of the principle on public interest grounds is much narrower. Secondly, UK ministers have the power to amend that list without a requirement to seek consent from or consult the devolved Governments. The third reason is the asymmetrical structure of the UK internal market.

Given the relative size of the English economy and population, it will inevitably be market forces that determine regulatory standards. Why, then, would any devolved Government want to potentially put its economy at a competitive disadvantage by seeking higher regulatory standards that could then be undermined by imports from other parts of the UK that did not need to meet those standards? In reality, that would mean that regulatory standards that were agreed by the UK Parliament would, in effect, be imposed on the devolved nations.

The committee heard that that approach is significantly different from the approach that is taken in the EU and in other internal markets. Dr Emily Lydgate from the University of Sussex told us:

“The core of any approach to an internal market that is as integrated as the UK’s has to be harmonised rules that have a strong ... consultative process underlying them. The rules cannot be set by one of the countries.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 23 September 2020; c 4.]

The committee’s view is that it is unacceptable that the UK Government should seek to impose, in effect, new reservations on the devolved competences through the bill. This is not “myth-making”, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would have it, but a clear consequence of the proposed market access principles in the context of the relative size of England’s population and economy.

The UK Government has argued that the agreement of common frameworks means that the market access principles will apply only in a limited number of policy areas, but it is not clear how common frameworks can address the threat to devolution in the bill. In areas where the devolved Governments may wish to have higher standards than the minimum standards that are agreed in frameworks, they will potentially be rendered ineffective by the market access principles. Consequently, there needs to be far greater clarity about how both statutory and non-statutory frameworks would interact with the market access principles.

The committee also considered the provisions in the bill to reserve state aid. The committee agrees with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government that state aid is a devolved matter. Any future legislation on subsidy control should be agreed between all the four Governments and legislatures across the UK through the common frameworks process. The committee therefore recommends that the reservation of subsidy control is unnecessary and should be removed from the bill.

Part 6 of the bill will provide the UK Government with a single, comprehensive statutory power to provide financial assistance across a range of policy areas throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. The committee’s view is that it is regrettable that part 6 has not been subject to any public or parliamentary consultation. It is also regrettable that the views of the devolved Governments were not sought.

We reiterate the findings of our report on structural funds post-Brexit—in particular, that any UK-wide replacement for EU structural funding should replicate some aspects of the current structural funds approach. We consider the decision-taking powers that the Scottish Government currently exercises under structural funds should not be reduced under any future UK approach.

The committee previously recommended that there is an onus on all four Governments and legislatures in the UK to work constructively together to seek a solution to the complex and challenging issues arising from leaving the EU internal market. The committee recommended that that must be achieved through mutual trust and respect for the UK’s existing constitutional arrangements. The committee concludes that it is highly regrettable that, in relation to the internal market bill, that has not happened. The committee is dismayed that the UK Government has instead adopted a hierarchical approach, through which its default position is to impose new limitations on devolution that go way beyond the previous limitations of EU membership.

The committee’s view is that devolution cannot work on the basis of the Westminster Government imposing its view of how the UK’s constitutional arrangements should evolve following Brexit. The committee therefore recommends that the Parliament does not agree to consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Dean Lockhart to speak to and move amendment S5M-22955.1 on behalf of the Conservatives.

17:06  

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

There has been a lot of noise surrounding the UK internal market proposals, but when further restrictions on economic activity have just been announced, surely the priority must be to protect the 550,000 jobs and livelihoods and the 60 per cent of trade that depend on barrier-free access to the UK internal market. That is certainly the view of key stakeholders, such as the Confederation of British Industry and NFU Scotland, which have given evidence that the internal market is extremely important—more important than the EU market and the rest of the world put together. That is also our priority.

On the other side of the debate, I recognise that there are legitimate questions about how the proposals might work in practice, but too much focus has been on constitutional scaremongering and hypothetical concerns. Take, for example, paragraph 13 of the legislative consent memorandum, which claims that the bill will result in declining standards—what the cabinet secretary referred to as the “race to the bottom”, which is a claim utterly devoid of any factual evidence. The inconvenient truth for the Scottish National Party is that the UK Government has introduced higher domestic standards than the EU has in many areas.

Just weeks ago—[Interruption.] Let me make progress. Just weeks ago, the first major free trade agreement following Brexit—the economic partnership with Japan—was signed. Far from lowering standards, the agreement goes way beyond the scope of the EU-Japan free trade agreement and has increased the number of protected geographical indications for Scottish produce. That means that Scottish salmon, cheese, wool and beef will now have much higher levels of protection in the Japanese market.

The SNP’s poster child for lowering standards is the proposed free trade agreement with the US. When, at committee, I challenged Ivan McKee to give real examples of his concerns about those lower standards, his response was: “All concerns are hypothetical.” There we have it—a long history, as well as very recent examples, of high standards being adopted by the UK Government, in direct contrast and in contradiction to the hypotheticals that we have heard from the other side.

The memorandum goes on to claim that the bill will “undermine the powers” of this Parliament, when quite the opposite is true. At the end of the transition period, this Parliament will enjoy more than 100 new powers coming from the EU, making it more powerful than ever. [Interruption.] My colleague just said that it is a power surge—it absolutely is. As we all know, the SNP wants to surrender every one of those powers back to the EU, in what would be the biggest power surrender that this Parliament has ever seen.

The Scottish Government’s motion states that the bill will reduce and constrain the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Again, that is completely untrue, because the agreed approach of all four nations is that the mutually agreed common frameworks will regulate the vast majority of the additional powers coming back from the EU. [Interruption.] Let me make an important point. Those frameworks will deliver agreed standards as well as dynamic divergence in areas in which devolved Administrations want to take a different approach. We support all those objectives, but there still has to be a mechanism in place to deal with residual elements of trade that will sit outside those agreed common frameworks.

That is where the bill comes into play. [Interruption.] I will take an intervention in a second.

Witnesses such as Professor Michael Keating recognised the need for such a fallback mechanism. He said in evidence that the common frameworks

“will cover most issues. If something arises that is not covered by the common frameworks, there should be a mechanism for dealing with that.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 24 September 2020; c 32.]

That is the fundamental point. The bill will apply only as a default mechanism to a residual element of trade that falls outside agreed common frameworks. On that basis, to say that the bill will cripple the Scottish Parliament and its devolved competence, as the First Minister has repeatedly said, is wholly misleading.

Take minimum unit pricing for alcohol, for example. That is a good example that the SNP uses. A divergent approach by the Scottish Parliament will be allowed in the future. That means that alcohol that is produced elsewhere in the UK can be sold in Scotland only if it complies with minimum pricing in Scotland. Contrast that with the position under EU law, whereby the Scottish Government had to defend that divergent approach through the courts.

In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary talked about the United Kingdom no longer being a partnership of equals. The real test of any partnership is how a partner reacts during a crisis. We have seen the strength of the UK partnership delivering for Scotland during this time of crisis. There has been £16 billion of additional support as part of the UK Government’s Covid response, the UK furlough scheme has saved more than 900,000 jobs in Scotland, and the bill will deliver even more investment to Scotland.

What has the cabinet secretary’s contribution been during this period of crisis? He has spent time and money on an unwanted second referendum, walked away from negotiations on the internal market, and interfered with the Brexit negotiations. When the cabinet secretary questions the partnership of equals, he is the one trying to undermine the partnership. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member is winding up.

Dean Lockhart

The Scottish Government’s motion refers to a breach of international law—perhaps that is what the member wanted to intervene on. On that very issue, let me quote what Mr Russell told the Finance and Constitution Committee last week. He said:

“there is nothing unlawful about the House of Commons ... preparing a bill. It ... should never have come to the House of Commons, but that is not the same as it being illegal.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 30 September 2020; c 11.]

For once, I agree with the cabinet secretary.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must conclude there.

Dean Lockhart

I conclude by emphasising the vital importance of the Scottish Parliament protecting jobs and livelihoods during this crisis. That is why we will vote for legislative consent at decision time.

I move amendment S5M-22955.1, to leave out from “not to consent” to end and insert:

“to consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, as it will protect 550,000 jobs and livelihoods across Scotland during an unprecedented economic crisis, deliver significant new powers to the Scottish Parliament and secure additional direct investment from the UK Government in Scotland.”

17:13  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In opening the debate for Labour, I want to make it clear that we will not give consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Let me be clear: we will not give support to any measures that will reduce and constrain the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

As a political party, Labour is committed to devolution. For the avoidance of doubt, the bill is a full-on attack on the existing devolution settlement. Devolution has worked for Scotland and, with the economic uncertainty that we face now, further devolution is required to build a better Scotland. However, instead of taking the best course of action to protect the UK internal market through the collaboration and co-operation of all nations, we have a take-it-or-leave-it approach from Boris Johnson and his Tory chums. Make no mistake: those Tory chums, including the Scottish Tories who are sitting in the chamber, will put Johnson and his interests before the interests of the people of Scotland. I say to all those who are worried about the future of Scotland that the greatest threat to the future of Scotland, its economy and its relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom is Boris Johnson and all the Scottish Tories who have lined up behind him in blind loyalty.

That is why I say that the Tory party wants to distract from the real issues in the bill by claiming that the argument is about independence. It has nothing to do with independence, but everything to do with the UK Government removing powers from the Scottish Parliament and, ultimately, from the Scottish people.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Surely, the member agrees—as I do—with Scotland’s trade union movement, which has said that if the

“UK Government proceed with the Bill, against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament it makes the case for a second independence referendum unanswerable”?

Alex Rowley

It certainly demonstrates that the greatest threat to the United Kingdom is Boris Johnson and his clapping Tories who sit behind him.

As an added arrogance, the bill breaches international law—a fact that was readily admitted by the Northern Ireland secretary in the House of Commons. The bill is now under legal proceedings from the EU as a result of that breach.

Frankly, the whole thing is a disgrace that will have massive repercussions for the UK’s international reputation, which has already suffered over the past few years of the Conservative Government’s failures. However, it is not just that the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill breaks international law, or that it drives a coach and horses through devolution, but that it paves the way, in my view, for private and multinational companies to force their way into key public services in Scotland. The bill will lead to a race to the bottom in many areas of our daily lives.

The overwhelming evidence from across the world is that, in this day and age, we must have more regulation, not less. The idea that everything should be left to the market is not only outdated but dangerous; its time has come and gone.

It seems incredible to be ploughing on regardless with the bill and the Tories’ Brexit plan. We have supported the Scottish Government to make the case for a Brexit extension, which is absolutely necessary at this time.

Interest rates are at rock bottom and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has never borrowed so much, with public debt now more than 100 per cent of the size of our economy. That comes on top of massive increases in unemployment because of Covid and worrying forecasts for further unemployment to come. The pandemic has wrecked our economy, but the economic cost of a no-deal Brexit could be two or three times as bad as the impact of Covid, according to a report by the London School of Economics. Surely, anyone looking at that would say that it is absurd to continue down that path and that we need to think again; that would be anyone but Johnson and his Tories.

I say, “Think again.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Patrick Harvie to open for the Green Party. You have four minutes.

17:17  

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

This has been an extraordinary process leading to an extraordinary bill, which poses an extraordinary threat to us all. The process cut right through the discussion of common frameworks and began with a short consultation that could not have been more perfectly timed to coincide with the parliamentary recesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It involved the refusal of the secretary of state who is responsible for the bill to come and give evidence; it included no draft bill for consultation; and it included a clear threat to legislate without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

As I understand it, the Scottish and Welsh Governments were still asking to see the bill during a meeting of the joint ministerial committee when a photo of the press release announcing its publication was leaked on Twitter. That could not have been more shambolic.

The substance of the bill poses an extraordinary threat, too. The direct assault on the Parliament’s democracy—this democratic authority—comes from the political party that opposed the creation of the Parliament in the first place. The bill is not an insurance policy; it is a wrecking ball.

Where mutual respect genuinely exists between jurisdictions, co-operation is possible, even when political parties with very different politics are in power. The past 20 years show us that. However, that shocking power grab is what makes co-operation impossible. There is no incentive at all for the UK Government to negotiate or compromise if it has already taken a decision to ignore and overrule Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even international law. That is why I am pleased to say that more than 6,000 people have signed up to support the Scottish Green Party’s campaign against the bill.

Beyond the extraordinary substance of the bill and its extraordinary process, there is an extraordinary threat, which raises a deeper concern about the true agenda of the current UK Government. It is encapsulated not only in the bill but in that Government’s trade agenda. It is apparent from the speech that Liz Truss gave to the free market extremist lobby group, the Cato Institute, a couple of years ago, in which she complained of a “thicket of regulation” and welcomed the race-to-the-bottom agenda on food, safety, public services, public health and environmental protection.

Liz Truss is far from alone in the UK Government in her attitude toward those issues, as shared with a right-wing, anti-environment, anti-social, climate-change-denying outfit such as the Cato Institute. The UK Government just appointed Tony Abbott, for goodness’ sake, to the UK Board of Trade. He has worked with Nigel Lawson’s dishonest climate denial lobby group; he has denied basic climate science for years and called it a “cult”.

The UK Government is willing to bring people like that into government. It is willing to break international law and render itself untrustworthy to both international partners and to Governments elsewhere in these islands. The UK Government is willing to undermine human rights and to overturn devolution. I agree with the STUC’s comment, which I quoted to Mr Rowley, that if the UK Government makes good on its threat to pass the bill in defiance of a refusal by this Parliament to consent to it, that will make

“the case for a second independence referendum unanswerable.”

That is because the bill does one thing very clearly: it exposes the reality of the choice that Scotland faces. In the context of the current UK Government, that choice is between direct rule and independence.

17:20  

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The bill emerged from a hurried white paper in the summer, and it is being blasted through Westminster at high speed. The bill exists to smooth a trade deal with the United States of America. It gives UK ministers the power to sweep away objections from devolved Administrations on matters such as food safety and environmental safety.

I have been astonished to hear UK ministers say that the Northern Ireland protocol was done in haste and so cannot be relied upon. Those very same ministers are rushing through this legislation at breakneck speed and with a strong-arm guillotine and they do not even blush.

I was very interested in the evidence that expert witnesses gave to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee. Professor Michael Dougan wrote in a submission that

“many trade systems that rely on mutual recognition ... also incorporate multiple safeguards into its application”.

There are none in the bill. Professor Michael Keating pointed out in his evidence that most systems with “internal markets” are “federal”, such that each Administration within it has a say. This bill gives power to one secretary of state.

I would prefer joint ministerial committees to be up and running, with a dispute-resolution process to keep the internal market moving. With frameworks agreed by all four Administrations, their detailed implementation can be left to the individual Administrations, who would be safe in the knowledge that the fundamentals of the internal market were protected.

My committee colleague Beatrice Wishart asked about fire safety standards, pointing out that

“Peter Drummond—a senior member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland—said that Scotland’s more robust fire safety regulations could fall foul of the bill”

and noting that, if we wanted

“to change or toughen its existing standards, the bill would appear to come into force against it.”

She further noted that, in response to Mr Drummond’s concerns, the UK Government had said

“that the Scottish Parliament will continue to be able to set its own regulations.”

However, as Professor Dougan pointed out,

“Technically speaking, the UK Government is correct, but only if we totally ignore the bill that we are talking about.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 24 September 2020; c 19.]

We might have thought that someone would have to be a pretty high-ranking office holder of the Boris Johnson fan club to think that this is an honest piece of legislation, but it seems that we have a number of those individuals in the chamber today. That is before we get to the brazen admission that the bill will break international law. So much for the party of law and order: the Scottish Conservatives still stand by the bill.

The bill is unnecessary. It is rushed. It is ill conceived. It will undermine the United Kingdom partnership, put power in the hands of just one minister and break international law. The Scottish Parliament should reject the legislative consent motion and the UK Government should withdraw the bill without delay.

17:25  

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

I will not vote for the Parliament to consent to the UK Government’s internal market bill, and I have a number of reasons for taking that position.

By the UK Government’s own admission, the bill breaks international law. It may do so in a “specific and limited” way, but it is state-sponsored law breaking and, as such, it further chips away at trust and respect and represents a full-scale assault on devolution and the powers of the Parliament. Is it any wonder that the latest Scottish social attitudes survey, released last week, shows that just 15 per cent of those asked trust the UK Government to work in Scotland’s interests? That was before it was revealed that the UK Government is specifically, deliberately and disgracefully keeping secret from the Scottish Government and the Parliament consideration of a number of crucial measures that will directly affect devolved competences. The respect agenda seems like a long time ago, and not a word of concern did we hear about that from the Tories.

The internal market bill will lead to a race to the bottom in regulations in areas such as health protection, animal welfare, housing and environmental standards. In 1997, the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly—nearly 75 per cent—in support of a Parliament for Scotland. The Parliament was reconvened after 300 years and tasked with setting priorities for Scotland. It has allowed us to take a different path to that of the UK on so many issues, such as free prescriptions, no tuition fees for students—lambasted by the Tories in the Scottish Parliament for years, but apparently they now support that—minimum pricing for alcohol and a fairer and more just social security system.

We know that the Tories never got behind devolution fully, but those in the Scottish Parliament, as well as members from all other parties, have a duty to defend the devolution settlement and acknowledge the level of contempt that the bill shows the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved nations of the UK. It also demonstrates that the Tories in the Scottish Parliament have no serious expectation of ever exercising power in Scotland. If they did so, they would not be so happy to cheer the removal of powers from this devolved Parliament.

Dean Lockhart

Will the member give way?

Keith Brown

No, I will not. I do not have time.

Dean Lockhart

Oh!

Keith Brown

The member did not give way to anybody either.

The Tories in the Scottish Parliament have fallen into line behind Boris. They now support Brexit despite 62 per cent of voters in Scotland opposing it. It was also revealed last week that they danced to London’s tune when they were told by a Westminster MP to support scrapping the hate crime bill, putting political point-scoring above engaging constructively to better the lives of the people of Scotland. As with other Brexit-related legislation, the UK Parliament has contemptuously passed laws that affect devolved matters, despite the consent of one or more of the devolved Administrations being withheld.

I acknowledge that there is little hope of a different outcome on the issue, but the Tories in the Scottish Parliament have the opportunity to stand up, find a spine, and say that enough is enough. The UK’s five living former prime ministers—John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May—have all spoken out against the bill. Will the Scottish Tories speak out against the bill? I think that we all know the answer to that.

After years of ignoring Scotland’s interests and its clear democratic wishes, it should come as no surprise to the Tories that the number of Scots backing independence is now at record levels. Indeed, when the removal of powers from the Parliament was first proposed, the SNP—my party—put on 7,000 members virtually overnight, such was the outrage at the proposal that was made over two years ago. Now, the number of Scots who back independence is at record levels and, if the UK Government imposes the bill on Scotland, it will become ever more evident that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests and our place in Europe is to become an independent country.

This is a huge moment in the constitutional development of the Scottish Parliament. If, by a large majority, the Parliament refuses consent and Boris Johnson and his acolytes in the Scottish Parliament ride roughshod over it, as the STUC said and as Patrick Harvie referred to, the case for a referendum on independence becomes unanswerable and we will have that referendum.

17:30  

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Despite all the hysterical language that we have heard about the bill, we need to focus on what really matters—the importance of the UK internal market to Scottish business. According to the Fraser of Allander institute, which might know more about it than The Ferret, more than half a million jobs in Scotland are supported by demand for our goods and services from the rest of the UK; 60 per cent of Scotland’s trade, worth more than £50 billion to the Scottish economy annually, is with the rest of the UK. Trade to the rest of the UK is worth three times as much as trade to the EU single market.

Against that backdrop, it is no wonder that there have been calls from those involved in business and trade for legislation to ensure that the UK internal market works seamlessly in a post-Brexit environment. The CBI has said that

“preserving the integrity of the internal single market—the economic glue binding our four nations—is essential to guard against any additional costs or barriers to doing business between different parts of the UK”.

The Scottish Retail Consortium has said that Scotland benefits “enormously” from the UK internal market, NFU Scotland has said that it is “vital” for the agricultural industry, Oil & Gas UK has said that regulatory barriers will harm its sector, and Quality Meat Scotland has said that it wants frictionless trade in the UK to be maintained as far as possible.

There is a clear demand for the legislation before us, and it is disappointing that, in the contributions that we hear from the other parties in the chamber, there seems to be little recognition of the need for the legislation. We heard from Michael Russell that the bill represents a power grab by the UK Government but, as we have heard, 111 extra powers are coming to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit and not a single power that is currently being exercised here is being removed. The hypocrisy of the SNP politicians’ position is that, while they complain about a power grab in this bill, they are pursuing their own power grab on Holyrood with the Scottish continuity bill, which will hand extensive powers to the Scottish ministers to introduce new laws in Scotland without detailed parliamentary scrutiny, in order to keep pace with EU laws that will be made by a third party, where we have had no say in their development. Under the SNP’s plans, we will become a rule taker but not a rule maker. It is little wonder that there has been so much opposition from stakeholders to what it is proposing.

We should not forget that the SNP wants to hand every power in the bill that it is complaining about straight back to the EU. So obsessed is it with EU membership that it would rather damage our businesses and the Scottish economy by aligning with the EU than align with the UK, despite the fact that the UK market is worth three times to Scottish business what the EU market is worth. Yet, for reasons of narrow ideological obsession, the SNP will damage the Scottish economy by threatening our ability to trade with the UK.

We should not for a moment accept the nonsense that is being stated about the bill leading to a lowering of standards. As Dean Lockhart said, the UK already has exceptionally high standards when it comes to the protection of consumers and workers—higher standards than the EU as a whole. Whether it comes to animal welfare, the environment, or workers’ rights, we are far ahead of what the EU offers. That is the position that we should maintain, and nothing in the bill threatens that.

The bill also contains the right for UK ministers to spend money directly in Scotland, a measure that we should all welcome. With Brexit, we will no longer have EU structural funds, and the UK Government has agreed that those will be replaced with direct UK investment in Scotland, in exactly the same way as we have seen from the EU in the past. Yet, strangely, SNP politicians object to that extra money and resources for their constituents, infrastructure projects, cultural projects and community initiatives. They are happy to accept that money when it comes from the EU, but they are so blinkered and prejudiced against the UK that they would rather turn that money down because it is a UK shared resource rather than an EU one—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please conclude your speech.

Murdo Fraser

Presiding Officer, the UK internal market is essential to Scottish business—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, you must conclude.

Murdo Fraser

For that reason, we should back the bill and reject the nonsense motion before us today.

17:34  

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

As we have heard, the UK bill would impose a series of rules on trade within the UK, following the end of the transition period with the EU on 31 December and a likely cliff-edge Brexit. We, in Scotland, did not vote for that situation, but on Brexit, as on everything else, our views are ignored and our votes simply disregarded by the UK.

I do not know why the Tory front-bench members are smirking.

The rules that are to be imposed by the UK Government would mean, for example, that state aid powers concerning devolved areas would be taken away to London; that London would take control of key devolved spending powers; and that there would inevitably be a race to the bottom in, for example, food and environmental standards. It is quite clear that public policy protections in the bill have been drawn very narrowly and are very limited in scope, and they would not be sufficient to keep out of Scotland cheap imported chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.

In evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on 24 September, Professor Catherine Barnard said:

“the mutual recognition principle will drive a coach and horses through any attempts by the Scottish Government to reflect local preferences for not having chlorinated chicken”.

At the same meeting, Professor Michael Dougan, of the University of Liverpool, said:

“It means that the market forces that are unleashed by the principle of mutual recognition will not be operating in a neutral manner among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The sheer market size of England means that market forces will lead English standards to be prevalent.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 24 September 2020; c 23-24.]

There we have it: an internal market of Jonah and the whale, with none of the protections from which we currently benefit as a result of being part of the EU single market of 500 million people.

The UK Tory Government asks us to trust it not to change the status quo and to consult with us, even though there is no requirement in the bill to do so. That is the same UK Tory Government that has such regard for our Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament that it scrapped the UK budget statement by Twitter; hid important information about possible food shortages and its state aid power grab from the Scottish Government; and now proposes to break international law and renege on commitments that were given under treaty to our international partners.

The bill represents an unprecedented attack on devolution. The people of Scotland joined together to ensure that we saw our Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999, and no UK Tory Government is going to rewrite our history.

In conclusion, I say to the Tories that we see you. The people of Scotland see you, for there is no respect agenda and no trust in this union, and we are certainly not feeling much love any more. Rather, there is an increasingly hostile environment for Scotland in the union. The STUC said:

“Should the UK Government proceed with the Bill, against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament it makes the case for a second independence referendum unanswerable.”

I agree entirely with that statement. It is only with independence that we can take our own decisions and determine our own future. Surely, that is the better path for Scotland.

17:38  

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

I rise to speak in favour of the Government’s motion opposing legislative consent and against the Conservative amendment. There are two central issues that need to be addressed in assessing the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill: the allocation of powers and the settlement of disputes.

It is clear that, once the Brexit process is complete, powers will run from the EU to the UK. Any logical observer would therefore have accepted that a consensual approach should have been taken and consensual discussion should have been entered into to ensure that the powers are divided up appropriately, with those powers that are consistent with the devolution settlement coming straight to Scotland. However, with this legislation, the Tories have put aside the common frameworks that have been worked on in negotiations, effectively rejected the intergovernmental process and sought to impose their view. It is for that reason that legislative consent needs to be rejected.

I will take a couple of examples. The Conservatives argue that the bill is about the protection of the economy and jobs, but the acceptance of the proposed legislation would mean that state aid powers would be held at Westminster. Surely, we would want state aid powers here, in Scotland, particularly at a time when we will have to address the economic impact of the pandemic.

In addition to that, the setting up of the office of the internal market would give the UK Government the basis on which to impose rules and regulations on other parts of the United Kingdom. That is simply unfair—it does not work as a fair process.

The proposed legislation does not offer an effective disputes process. Clearly, there will be disputes when powers are discussed, and there needs to be an arbitration process. There cannot be a veto from either the UK Government or the Scottish Government; there needs to be a process that works with all four nations to ensure that there can be a consensual approach. That must be part of the solution.

As for those who have sought to bring the independence referendum into the debate, in the midst of a pandemic, with all the public health issues and the potential loss of jobs, this would not be the right time for an independence referendum. The Conservatives therefore need to reflect very carefully on their actions. We heard Douglas Ross saying the other day that he felt that some of his colleagues in England did not understand Scotland and did not understand the strength of feeling on the issues at stake. If the Conservatives press their buttons in support of the legislation at decision time by supporting legislative consent, that will, in effect, add fuel to the fire for those who have argued in this debate for a second independence referendum.

It is important that we protect the devolution process, that we oppose legislative consent and that we do not let the Tories trash devolution.

17:42  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Members of this Parliament have worked hard for two decades, deliberating and legislating on devolved matters, naturally leading to significant policy divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill makes it clear that UK Tory ministers are no longer prepared to accept divergence as an integral part of devolution, which the bill seeks to rein in, spuriously treating policy differences between Administrations as a barrier to trade and a problem to be solved.

As we leave the EU, there is, of course, a need for co-ordination and collaboration between Governments and Parliaments across these islands. We must work with colleagues across the UK to create a system that minimises trade barriers and respects the authority and legitimacy of each Parliament and Assembly. That is not the bill’s aim. There is no provision whatever to involve the devolved Administrations in any meaningful way in the development and governance of the UK’s internal market.

The bill states that

“the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.”

It is not clear how that consultation process will work in practice but, ultimately, the bill ensures that Westminster will oversee the evolution of the UK’s internal market. Any measures that are deemed to impact on the internal market will have to be approved by UK ministers, and any significant policy changes by this Parliament will then have to be given the green light by Westminster.

The bill represents a rolling back of devolution’s core principle that this Parliament has competence to legislate on all devolved matters. Let us take the example of minimum unit pricing. If that is revised, we would be able to enforce it only for Scottish products. Due to mutual recognition and non-discrimination, we could not act against cheap English alcohol imports. On paper, we will still have legislative powers and practice, but what would be the point? People would simply buy cheaper imported alcohol, disadvantaging Scottish producers and failing to achieve the public interest objective of minimum unit pricing. All four UK nations will have to accept goods at the standards set in one country, making it difficult to envisage any scenario that does not result in a race to the bottom. That is particularly worrying when coupled with reports of low-regulation trade deals, whereas Scotland normally competes on quality. If we are forced to accept cheap, low-quality products in the name of market integrity, that will have a hugely negative impact on Scottish agriculture.

When Governments work together, compromise is required to balance needs and interests. The UK Government makes no compromise with the bill, nor any attempt to create a sense of confidence and mutual trust among all partners. There has been no attempt even to create the illusion that the legislation is being adapted to consider the devolved Administrations.

By the UK Government’s own admission, the bill also breaks international law and allows UK ministers to prevent the application of, and unilaterally reinterpret and disapply parts of, the Northern Ireland protocol despite legal obligations to enact it under both international and domestic UK law. International response is rightly hostile. The EU has launched a legal action against the UK for failing to meet its withdrawal agreement obligations and the bill also risks future trade deals. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, declared that there is “absolutely no chance” of a UK-US trade deal passing through Congress if the UK violates an international treaty and undermines the Good Friday agreement.

The bill’s scope and ambiguity is deeply worrying. Professor Michael Keating said at the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee that he could not see

“why we should give all those powers to UK ministers when we do not know how they will be used.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 24 September 2020; c 11.]

Giving consent to the bill would place power and trust in the hands of UK ministers to act in good faith and in the best interest of the people of Scotland. That is utterly laughable, because the bill, by its very nature, is an example of the Tory Government’s proclivity for acting in bad faith.

The Tories are prepared to break international law, renege on the Good Friday agreement and undermine devolution. The Parliament has a responsibility to protect Scotland’s interests, so it must not grant legislative consent to the bill.

17:46  

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

In August, when the chamber last debated the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, all political parties agreed that, when we leave the transition period at the end of this year—thereby losing the checks that the EU internal market previously brought to domestic law—the exercise of devolved competence could, for the first time, threaten the integrity of the UK internal market.

My colleague Adam Tomkins said that day, in a speech that Michael Russell complimented, that any interruption to the UK internal market

“would be contrary to not only the UK’s interests but the interests of Scottish consumers, producers, manufacturers and distributors” —[Official Report, 18 August 2020; c 37.],

including the protection of half a million Scottish jobs, which is obviously vital at this time of Covid. Adam Tomkins was right, and that reason is precisely why we need a UK internal market bill.

Let us not forget, as Murdo Fraser rightly pointed out, that Scotland trades one and a half times as much with the rest of the UK as it does with the whole of the EU and the rest of the world put together.

The UK internal market is worth nearly four times as much to Scots as the EU single market is, which is why there was general agreement in August across all political parties in the chamber that it is not in anyone’s interest—whether unionist or nationalist—to erect new barriers to trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Patrick Harvie

Liz Smith surely accepts that we should take into account not just the interests of commercial operators and businesses but the wider public interest around health, public services, safety and so on. It is for the Parliament to decide whether divergence is politically acceptable in the context of specific examples.

Liz Smith

The member is right—it is not just about economic interests but about other things that I will come to in a minute. My colleagues have spoken about the views of stakeholders on the matter and they—the CBI, the Scottish Retail Consortium, NFU Scotland, the oil and gas sectors and the food industry—have all been plain in their support for securing economic stability and protecting jobs. [Interruption.] I will not take another intervention, if the member does not mind.

That point does not deal with the other key issue, which is to ensure that enough is being done—perhaps this answers Mr Harvie’s point—to protect the need for legitimate policy differences among the devolved nations and the effective working of the doctrine of proportionality that allows for that necessary divergence. The latter point is, of course, all about the protection and enhancement of the devolution settlement, because it would not be satisfactory if the right to legitimate policy divergence were undermined. We know, for example, that the SNP has been concerned that manner of sale policies or pricing regulations could be undermined on issues such as plastic bags or minimum unit alcohol pricing.

It is true that not enough clarity existed on the issue, which is why the UK Government put in place technical amendments on 29 September to ensure that all parts of the UK have the freedom to regulate for pricing and manner of sale policy and that those policies are beyond doubt when it comes to the courts.

I am well aware that the SNP does not agree with that. However, if we look back at the speeches that were made when we debated this issue in August, as well as Mr Russell’s letter in 2018, we can see that there was an acceptance that the common frameworks, on their own, are not enough, because they are not legally binding, and there is a need for something of a legally binding nature. I think that Mr Russell might have changed his mind on that a little in the intervening two years.

I will finish on that point. This bill is needed to protect the economy and the social interests of Scotland, and that is why I will be supporting the amendment in the name of Dean Lockhart.

17:50  

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I am far from convinced that this bill is necessary at all. Of course, businesses want to sell their products throughout the UK, but there is no evidence that I am aware of that that ability is under threat. We have effectively had an internal market with England for 313 years. That is much longer than we have been in the EU, so we have to assume that there is an ulterior motive behind the UK Government bringing this bill forward.

The key issue for me is whether we are proceeding in this—[Interruption.] No, the member took no intervention, and I am taking none.

The key issue for me is whether we are proceeding in this by negotiation, compromise and the use of common frameworks or whether it is to be an imposition from Westminster. If the bill passes, it further strengthens the hand of London over the three devolved legislatures. At the very least, it means that negotiations on common frameworks would become increasingly one sided, as we would be negotiating with a gun to our heads, and any failure to agree would lead to the fallback position of the UK Government making all the decisions.

Further, even if there were a less formal common framework agreed on a particular topic, any organisation going to court against the Scottish Government, as the Scotch Whisky Association did previously, could appeal to this legislation as overriding the common frameworks. That is why I oppose the bill from a constitutional point of view and urge members not to give consent to it.

However, there are also a number of practical reasons why I oppose the bill. We received evidence from the General Teaching Council for Scotland on its concern about teachers’ qualifications. Scotland has long had its own requirements to approve teachers and England has had different ones. No one is saying that one is right and the other is wrong, but they are different for different situations. The bill, as it stands, would mean that we would have to recognise professional qualifications from other parts of the UK. That could mean that any teacher from elsewhere in the UK could challenge our setting different requirements.

I asked Michael Gove about that when he appeared at committee. First, he ignored the question and answered a different one. He said that there would be no interference in Scottish education. However, that was not the question. What I had asked was whether Scotland could be forced to accept any teacher from the rest of the UK. He did not answer that.

Similarly, in relation to minimum pricing for alcohol, witnesses raised concerns that, although the present scheme could probably stay in place, if we tried to raise the minimum unit price significantly, even for health reasons, that could be challenged, and there would be less legal protection than the EU gave.

Michael Gove sought to reassure the committee that the present Government at Westminster, and he himself, in particular, had no intention of going down that route. However, the reality is that those powers would be in legislation and, although he himself might be a very nice man and completely trustworthy, that does not mean that future ministers in future UK Governments will be either as nice or as trustworthy. Further, of course, it is not just the UK Government’s intentions that matter here. With minimum unit pricing for alcohol, it was the whisky industry that went to court. Once this law is in place, any business or organisation can use it against Scotland.

We want free trade with the UK. We have free trade with the UK and, of course, the UK is our largest market. I want to maintain that. However, this Parliament was set up for a reason. That reason was that the centralised UK state, with all decisions made in London, was not working. If it is the intention of the Conservatives to reverse the devolution process, they have the power to do that. However, I warn them that it will come back to haunt them.

17:54  

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

The internal market bill may prove to be the death knell of devolution. It will provide a means for UK ministers to employ direct power to intervene in devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and it will allow for the use of indirect power to undermine the laws of this Parliament.

An example of direct power can be found in part 6 of the bill, which would allow UK ministers to bypass this Parliament to spend in devolved areas such as health, education, justice, housing, transport, culture and sport. It is the role of this Parliament and local authorities to decide spending in devolved areas.

If part 6 of the bill is intended as a vehicle to deliver a replacement for EU structural funds, it falls short of what is required and should be amended or removed. A better model would be for any replacement funds to be included in the block grant, which would maximise democratic oversight and allow all members of this Parliament to play a role in shaping how the funds should be used.

In the bill, there is an arbitrary system whereby funding could be decided on the whim of a UK Minister, or even solely for perceived political gain. That would be a recipe for confusion and contradiction in public spending and I fear that it would be the thin end of the wedge. I do not say that lightly—I am not one for engaging in conspiracy theories or scare stories—but is it unreasonable to suspect that the worst of motives underlies much of what the UK Government seeks to do?

This is the Government of the man who orchestrated the unlawful proroguing of Parliament; the Government that introduced the bill that we are debating, which, by its own admission, would breach international law; and the Government that, it was revealed only yesterday, is deliberately withholding important information on Brexit from the devolved Administrations. Could we have confidence, for example, that the UK Government would not reduce the Scottish Parliament’s budget in future years, before seeking to position itself through these direct funding powers as a generous benefactor that is ready to step in and help—subject to certain conditions, of course? Would funding for healthcare be conditional on the marketisation of our NHS, as in England? Would support for transport infrastructure be in the form of loans to be financed through tolls, to which many roads in England are subject? Would money be used to undermine lefty activist lawyers and do-gooders? Regardless of what the UK Government has in mind, the bill is unacceptable, for the simple reason that it is for this Parliament to make decisions on devolved spending.

I turn to how the bill seeks to indirectly undermine the lawmaking powers of this Parliament. Parts 1 and 2 of the bill introduce and apply the market access principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination to goods and services. The effect of that measure would be that goods or services that originate in one part of the UK must be accepted in all parts of the UK, irrespective of differences in regulatory standards. That would potentially allow one part of the UK to gain a competitive advantage through deregulation. Given the size of England’s population, economy and political power relative to other parts of the UK, English regulations would, ultimately, have to be acquiesced to by the other nations. Across a range of areas, it would reduce the Scottish Parliament to a puppet Parliament with London pulling the strings.

The bill is a power grab, and it tells us much about the nature of the UK and its Government. Robert Caro, one of the great writers on power, wrote:

“although the cliché says that power always corrupts, what is seldom said ... is that power always reveals. When a man is climbing, trying to persuade others to give him power, concealment is necessary ... But as a man obtains more power, camouflage is less necessary.”

The mask has slipped. There is no partnership of equals, and it certainly does not feel like a family of nations. The UK Government seeks to use raw power to roll back devolution. We must not allow that to happen.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must conclude.

Tom Arthur

All MSPs worthy of their position must join the Scottish Government at decision time in defending their dignity and the rights of their Parliament, and refuse consent for the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You cannot go on—I am sorry, but I have been hard on everybody else.

17:58  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Throughout the divisive and disempowering Brexit process, Scottish Labour has taken a keen interest in developments about which we have become increasingly alarmed. That particularly—though by no means exclusively—relates to the development of the post-EU arrangements for trade and our precious environment, and to the grave threat to devolution.

When I spoke previously in the chamber on the internal market, it was at the stage of the publication of the UK Tory Government white paper. At that point, I and other members emphasised our grave concerns about its direction in relation to Scotland’s interests and, indeed, those of the UK as a whole. When I spoke in the debate on 17 August, I expressed incredulity at the lack of respect from the Tory Government for the devolved settlement.

At that time, I stated that the white paper proposals were beholden to capital, had no loyalty to place, collaboration or subsidiarity, and risked undermining any partnership between the local community, locally owned businesses and trade unions.

How naive of me to hope against hope that someone in the UK Tory Government might listen to concerns about the threat to the devolution settlement itself! How falsely optimistic of me to envisage that someone in that Government might wake up and realise how seriously wrong they had got it.

The Finance and Constitution Committee was correct to call for a much longer, transparent and inclusive debate on the proposals in the white paper. The wider debate included blunt comments from former Prime Minister John Major, who said:

“This has wide-ranging ramifications. It will not only make negotiation with the EU more difficult, but also any trade negotiations with other nations, including the United States. Once trust is undermined, distrust becomes prevalent.”

However, no one in the UK Tory Government was listening to him or to us, in the Scottish Parliament—that is certain. We now have a draft UK bill to consider, and the only option is to say a clear and resounding no to it.

Twenty years ago this Sunday, Donald Dewar, our first First Minister, passed away. His determination, and that of so many others from political parties and civic society, to have a Scottish Parliament must not be threatened and undermined—by the bill or by anything else. I acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s recognition of his part.

In Scotland, much of the law and certainty on our policies on the environment, food standards, health and more is established here, in this Parliament. Its shaping has been helped by EU laws and directives. We will not be forced into a race to the bottom.

The STUC’s concerns relate mainly to state aid, the market access commitment and intergovernmental arrangements. Its briefing highlights that the bill reserves state aid to Westminster, despite its not being reserved in the Scotland Act 1998. It has stated that in Scotland we have

“the ability to give effective financial support to workplaces threatened with closure, to take key utilities back into public ownership”,

and much more. That highlights starkly the totally unacceptable arrangements to which the bill would lead.

As Alex Rowley stressed, as we struggle with Covid, with such economic uncertainty, what is required is further devolution, to build back a better Scotland.

James Kelly stressed the lack of a dispute resolution arrangement in the bill.

The lack of respect by the UK Government for our devolved arrangements and for the need for mutual respect in forging the way forward is an ominous signal of a determination to centralise, which will be resisted robustly. The upcoming continuity bill will pin down some of our way forward, and I look forward to the stage 1 debate after the recess.

Furthermore, the UK bill is not about seamless trade, as is stated. The common frameworks would provide that, in a way that would be apparent if the UK Government had acted with more alacrity. It is still possible to shape those frameworks. It is not too late to have future arrangements made through agreement.

I turn to the concerns on the Irish peace process that have been raised in relation to the bill. Last month, John Major and Tony Blair wrote in The Sunday Times:

“It puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk, because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.”

The threat to the peace process and the lack of respect for international law are reasons enough to vote down the LCM. Sadly, many more reasons have been outlined during the debate, by members of most parties. Thus, Scottish Labour rejects the Tory amendment. Alex Rowley, James Kelly and I have made it clear that Scottish Labour supports the Scottish Government’s motion. We will not support legislative consent for such a disrespectful and dangerous bill.

18:04  

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

It is important not to lose sight of the most important aspect of the debate: how to protect Scottish jobs, businesses and the economy. That point was made expertly by my colleague Murdo Fraser. Regardless of members’ views on the constitution, it is an indisputable fact that Scotland’s economy is intertwined with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. There is therefore a responsibility on every member of the Scottish Parliament to ensure the continued success of the UK internal market. There are simply too many Scottish jobs at stake—more than half a million, as my colleague Dean Lockhart pointed out.

We heard from Alex Rowley, who gets more cheers from the SNP benches these days than he gets from the Labour benches. He claimed that the bill breaks international law—untrue, incorrect and ill informed as ever. The same point was made by a number of SNP members, as well as by Patrick Harvie, who claimed that some members, including me, opposed the Scottish Parliament—I did not. I would have supported it had I been old enough to vote.

Almost two thirds of Scottish trade is conducted with the rest of the UK, so businesses need certainty that commerce will carry on as usual across the United Kingdom now that we have left the EU. The UK Internal Market Bill provides the certainty that products that are made in one part of the United Kingdom will not face additional barriers to market in another part of the UK and that consumers in one part of the UK will not be disadvantaged by limited access to goods and services.

Not only is that plain common sense, but it is what we have done for centuries. The internal market bill brings the process into the 21st century, to work with devolution. As long as they do not discriminate against goods and services in the rest of the UK, devolved Governments will be able to set their own rules and standards, which will then be recognised across the entire UK.

The SNP had to take the EU to court to get its alcohol minimum pricing scheme through. Under the UK Internal Market Bill, it could introduce that scheme without court action.

Liz Smith eloquently articulated how the doctrine of proportionality would allow divergence and enhance devolution.

Patrick Harvie

I recognise the extent to which the member is making real efforts to do the mental gymnastics that are necessary to justify the bill; he is making a good effort in that regard. Does he at least acknowledge the substantial amount of evidence, not from politicians and pro-independence activists but from independent witnesses, that the bill will leave more uncertainty and will leave major decisions not in the hands of democratic Parliaments here or at Westminster but in the hands of the courts? Will he acknowledge that exactly the uncertainty that he opposes is written into the bill?

Maurice Golden

No. I will not take lessons from Patrick Harvie, whose modus operandi is to destroy devolution. That is what he wants. I am standing up for devolution.

That is why we require co-operation across business groups. The CBI has been calling for that. The Conservatives stand ready to work with the Scottish Government on the bill. I urge SNP members at least to keep their minds open to co-operation, even if their natural instinct is not to do so—[Interruption.] I will come to that.

For example, it would have been welcome if the SNP had used this debate to discuss how best to use the new powers in the internal market bill—[Interruption.] Of course, SNP members laugh because they want to send those powers away from the Scottish Parliament and give them to unelected officials in Brussels. The Scottish Conservatives are keen to have that discussion and ensure that the powers are best used for the people of Scotland.

That is why it is so disappointing that we have today had another ill-tempered debate, with nationalist politicians showing more interest in senseless UK bashing than in the bill. They take every opportunity to undermine and oppose the UK, even when that risks thousands of Scottish jobs—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Just a minute. Mr Arthur, you are shouting to people in the gallery. Mr Golden, you are softly spoken and I want to hear what you are saying. Please continue.

Maurice Golden

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Why on earth would the cabinet secretary walk out of talks on the UK internal market? He claims that he felt that the talks would lead to a proposal that threatened devolution. Are we really supposed to believe that a man who, like Patrick Harvie, actively campaigns to end devolution is suddenly concerned with preserving it?

That same ideological opposition to the UK sees the cabinet secretary accept the need for common frameworks covering specific sectors while refusing to take the next logical step of providing a regulatory baseline to fill the gaps between those frameworks as the bill aims to.

The SNP must accept that ignorant, anti-UK sentiment will not help Scottish jobs and businesses. A more modern and progressive approach would be to engage constructively with the UK Government on all legislation and other measures that are being undertaken to safeguard and protect Scottish jobs and livelihoods.

18:10  

Michael Russell

I will make three introductory points that will be factually based, so that Maurice Golden can have them on the record.

First, there is no threat from any of the devolved Administrations, Governments or Parliaments to the continuation of seamless and unfettered trade within the UK. There is no such threat, no Tory has been able to point to such a threat and there is no intention to make one, so let us make that clear.

Secondly, we do not have to be in the same constitutional structure in order to trade with our largest customer. If we did, the UK would not be leaving the EU. That is the simple reality.

Thirdly, the bill is illegal; it contains breaches of international law. Therefore, it would be against the ministerial code for any minister to support it.

Maurice Golden

Will the member take an intervention?

Michael Russell

No, thank you. I have heard the sound of Maurice Golden’s voice in my ears enough this afternoon, and I really could not take any more of it. I am sorry, but even I have a limit for that sort of suffering.

I have to say that I have a lot of time for some Conservative members—although not many. I have a lot of time for Liz Smith, whom I am going to embarrass again. She was my Opposition shadow when I was the education secretary, and she regularly called for my resignation, but I got over it. I want to reflect on something that she said about the change during the past few years. Unfortunately, she said it in a somewhat dismissive way, as if I had changed my mind and vacillated on these matters.

I want to go back to four years ago. It is useful that Ruth Davidson is sitting behind Liz Smith, because in the period after 23 June 2016 she, too, was very clear that Scotland should seek the closest possible relationship with the EU, continued membership of the single market and continued membership of the customs union. Those were the things that united most of us in the chamber after 23 June. However, is what we have experienced this afternoon not extraordinary, just over four years on? Tory members have been mouthing off about the EU and about our handing powers to Brussels. They have been attacking alignments and standards, bad mouthing Europe and, essentially, painting it as the devil incarnate. That is what we have heard; it is what we hear time and again.

There was also a huge attack on devolution and the powers of the Parliament. The attack was not about our wanting to ensure that Scotland could continue to be in the single market; it was about our powers being considerably diminished.

Dean Lockhart

Will the member take an intervention?

Michael Russell

No. If one thing is worse than Mr Golden’s voice, it is Dean Lockhart’s. No—absolutely not.

There was a huge attack on devolution.

Liz Smith

Will the member take an intervention?

Michael Russell

No. Well, okay—yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Cabinet secretary, I am sure that you can do better than use personal insults. Are you taking an intervention from Liz Smith?

Michael Russell

I will. I would like to apologise to you, Presiding Officer, if you—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It is not a discussion. Liz Smith, please.

Liz Smith

I will not waste this opportunity. I ask the cabinet secretary, once again, if he can name a single power that will be removed from the Scottish Parliament.

Michael Russell

I can, indeed. Powers of devolution will be removed, because devolution is a single or collective power that will——[Interruption]. Presiding Officer, in a moment I would like to talk about the laughter on the Tory benches, which has been deeply unpleasant at times this afternoon and is unpleasant again now.

The reality is that every power that the Scottish Parliament has can be second-guessed as a result of the bill. There is no doubt about that. There has been a huge attack on devolution, and the Tories have been isolated as extreme Brexiteers. All of them have been isolated as extreme Brexiteers who not only admit the breach of international law but revel in it.

The saddest thing of all is the refusal to listen to any and all opinion that has been expressed on the matter. Before Mr Lockhart spoke, he heard from Bruce Crawford that the Finance and Constitution Committee has said that “devolution cannot work” if the UK Government imposes its view on the devolved nations. Mr Crawford made that clear in his final words.

Tory members also heard from Labour, with Alex Rowley saying, “Think again.” They heard from Patrick Harvie, who talked about the decision making of the UK Government. The Tories also heard from the Lib Dems. Rarely, if ever, can I find not a word of Willie Rennie’s speech to criticise. I enjoy criticising the words of Willie Rennie’s speeches, but on this occasion I cannot do so. That will put him in deep trouble with Mike Rumbles, but he has my approbation for his speech.

We have also heard from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, NFU Scotland and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, but they were all dismissed. In a very sinister move, the NFUS was misquoted. It made very clear in its submission what it feels about the white paper, but that was brushed aside. The reality is that, in the words of an Irving Berlin song, they are “all out of step but Jim.” They are all out of step with what the Tories say, but not even the Tories believe it.

There are members in the Tory seats who know that the bill is deeply wrong, because it goes well beyond what should be happening. We heard that in the rather nervous laughter from the Tories during the opening speeches. They were giggling like schoolchildren who have heard a naughty word, but I could not actually decide what the naughty word was. Was it “Scotland”, “democracy” or “devolution”? When any of those words was mentioned, the Tories were giggling away.

I want to make it very clear that there is no doubt whatsoever, from the evidence that committees have heard and from the bill: the bill is a major attack on devolution. It is illegal. If the Tories support it, they will be aiding and abetting a hostile Westminster Government in undermining the Scottish Parliament—no ifs and no buts. They will also be voting for a bill that is against international law, and they will know it. There have been three solicitors in the Tory seats throughout the debate, but not one of them referred to the legal issues in the bill. That is shocking.

I go back four years, to just after the Brexit referendum, when there was a view in the Scottish Parliament that we could find a way forward for Scotland that would preserve some of the valuable things that we have in the EU. Now, we have a host of ranting Brexiteers—[Interruption.] Mr Simpson is laughing, but we have a host of ranting Brexiteers who are, unfortunately, undermining the Parliament and Scotland’s democracy. It will not stand. Tom Arthur made that point, and I make it again: it will not stand. This is wrong. It should not happen. We should refuse permission and we should continue to oppose the bill, no matter what.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I believe that you were about to apologise to me, Mr Russell, but I interrupted you. However, I accept the apology. Do you want to make it now?

Michael Russell

Thank you for anticipating its terms, Presiding Officer, which you did not hear. You know me so well.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Unfortunately, yes.

That concludes the debate on legislative consent to the internal market bill.