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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 June 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Point of Order, European Union Exit Negotiations (Progress), Police Scotland Complaints and Conduct Review, Scottish Crown Estate Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Crown Estate Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, International Women in Engineering Day


European Union Exit Negotiations (Progress)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on progress in European Union exit negotiations.


The Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe (Michael Russell)

Just over 18 years ago, on 3 May 2000, this Parliament passed the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Bill. The bill was one of the earliest pieces of legislation that we tackled and it brought to an end an 800-year-old system, which had been past its sell-by date for generations.

In the final debate, Jim Wallace commented that the bill showed that Scotland’s new Parliament

“would do things that Westminster would never get around to doing”.—[Official Report, 3 May 2000; c 258.]

A similar sentiment was expressed by other members across the chamber, who pointed out that land reform for Scotland had never been a priority for London.

This Parliament was created to have the time for and the focus and expertise on Scottish issues that Westminster lacked. It has had that. Collectively, Scotland has slowly forgotten the endless occasions, over many years, on which Scottish priorities for legislation were sidelined by Westminster, or Scottish political imperatives were ignored, such as the occasion in January 1986 when the cross-party Gartcosh marchers, who were marching to save the Scottish steel industry, arrived in London to discover that the Prime Minister would not meet them and the official Opposition would not bring their cause to debate in the Commons.

The bad old times returned with a vengeance last week. Despite the fact that this Parliament had voted by 93 to 30 against giving legislative consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—the first time that such an action has taken place—and despite the vast importance of the withdrawal bill for peace in Northern Ireland, the House of Commons had no time to think about or talk about the devolved nations. Instead, it decided to legislate against the wishes of this Parliament without even a debate—no, that is not completely true; the House of Commons had 19 minutes to spare, but those 19 minutes were taken up in their entirety by a United Kingdom Government minister who has had responsibility for relationships with the devolved nations for less than six months.

So here we are again, faced with one of the key problems that devolution was meant to solve: a dependence on an archaic, out-of-touch Parliament, which is run by a Government that Scotland did not elect and which thinks little of us and cares about us less. It is Westminster groundhog day.

However, the situation is more damaging than before, because now we are in the midst of the worst political and governmental crisis for many generations. Our national wellbeing is threatened by a decision to leave the EU against which Scotland voted decisively. In addition, the UK Government’s flagship withdrawal bill is in a state of utter confusion as it approaches its final stage at Westminster. A Tory civil war rages around it, as it does around the whole disastrous Brexit project, while the threat to jobs, living standards and rights grows more imminent by the day.

What protection does Scotland have in those circumstances? What can we do to deflect, even in part, the chill, hostile winds that blow from Westminster?

The Sewel convention was meant to be a shield in that regard. It was meant to ensure that Scotland could not be ignored and that the concerns of this Parliament would be heeded in the developing process of devolution. However, last week that, too, was a victim of Tory insularity and arrogance.

In a sense, that is not surprising. A UK Government that is prepared to sacrifice prosperity, security and its standing in the world in order to satisfy a small, extreme group of its own back benchers was always likely to regard the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as expendable, too.

The wellbeing of Scotland might mean nothing to Westminster, but it should be our central and overriding concern. This Scottish Government will do everything in its power to protect that wellbeing and to promote the rights and interests of everyone who lives here. We are not going to allow the process of devolution to go backwards. We are not going to have our country ignored and our rights trampled at Westminster’s whim—not now and not ever.

Let me turn to the withdrawal bill and the Sewel convention. Two distinct but connected issues face us as we consider the matter. First, the withdrawal bill still contains unacceptable provisions, which would allow the UK ministers to change, by order, the powers that are available to the Scottish people in this Parliament, without this Parliament’s—and Scotland’s—agreement. That breaches constitutional principles that are reflected in the procedures under sections 30 and 63 of the Scotland Act 1998.

The second issue is that the UK Government is ignoring the vote of this Parliament to refuse legislative consent to the bill—in direct breach, we believe, of the Sewel convention. That convention is there to prevent Westminster from legislating without our consent in areas that are within our competence, or from changing our powers, which is essential to the security and stability of devolution. The convention has never been breached before—but now it has.

However, the matter is even worse than that, because, in his statement on Thursday, the Secretary of State for Scotland turned the convention on its head. He now says that

“the devolution settlements ... explicitly provide that in situations of disagreement the UK Parliament may be required to legislate without the consent of devolved legislatures”.—[Official Report, House of Commons, 14 June 2018; Vol 642, c 1122.]

That is not so. The whole point of the Sewel convention is actually the opposite: it is there so that, in cases of disagreement, the UK Parliament will not legislate without the consent of the devolved legislature. It does not—or, at least until the Mundell proclamation on Thursday, it did not—mean that Sewel is actually there to enable this Parliament to be overruled the moment that it dissents from a Westminster diktat.

Of course, the Secretary of State is right to say that the convention is not absolute. It says that Westminster will “not normally” legislate in such matters without our consent. “Not normally” has not been defined, but has been understood to mean extreme circumstances that would be clear and obvious to all. However, the current UK Government is changing that definition, too. Now it means whenever it wants to get its way on whatever subject it chooses—nothing more or less. “Normal” is what the UK Government says it is, and disagreement with the UK Government is “not normal”. That is not how devolution was designed, or how it is meant to operate.

Clearly, we now need to revisit, with urgency, how Sewel is defined and operated. We need to do so quickly, too. A number of Westminster bills are coming up—on trade, fishing, agriculture and the withdrawal agreement itself—that will require consent. We cannot have a repeat of last week. We will therefore seek urgent discussions with the UK Government, first of all on how to protect Sewel before introducing any other legislative consent motions to this chamber.

Of course, when the Scotland Act 2016 was going through the UK Parliament, we argued that the references in it to the Sewel convention would be nothing more than a convenient fig leaf—and so it has proved. At that time, we proposed a set of provisions that would have put Sewel on a stronger, statutory footing. Crucially, those provisions would have required the UK Government to consult with the Scottish Government on any bills that required consent in advance of their introduction. They would have provided a proper statutory footing for the Sewel convention, as recommended by the Smith commission, by setting out the requirements of the convention, in full, on the face of the Scotland Act 2016. Such provisions would have protected the role of this Parliament in the laws for which it is responsible—not confused it, as the UK Government’s preferred provisions clearly have now done. They would have also strengthened intergovernmental working. It is therefore time to look again at how we can embed the requirement for the Scottish Parliament’s consent in law. If legislation at Westminster is required to give the people of Scotland the assurance that they need on that, we would expect—and demand—that that would swiftly follow.

While we are at it, we must also look at new robust intergovernmental processes—for example, by placing the joint ministerial committee structure in agreed legislation, with enforceable rules, including rules on dispute resolution. The whole of the Scottish Parliament should be involved in advancing that process, and—as ever—I would welcome input from across the chamber. I have asked the other parties to meet me to discuss the matter at an early date, and it would be good if we could find an opportunity for an initial debate before the recess, seeking views from all sides. I would like to think that protecting this Parliament, and how it works for our constituents, would be an obligation for us all, and that we could find a constructive and collective way to demonstrate that.

Finally, let me turn to the broader negotiations for EU withdrawal and the issues that arise from it, some of which require urgent action. With every week that passes, evidence accumulates to support our position that continued EU membership is by far the best option, and that, at a minimum, Scotland—and preferably the UK as a whole—should remain a member of the European single market and the customs union. Our analysis that was published earlier this year estimated that leaving the EU could result in a hit to Scotland’s gross domestic product of up to 8.5 per cent, which is equivalent to a loss of up to £2,300 per year for each person in Scotland by 2030. Despite that evidence, the UK Government has not yet listened to us, or to its own analysis, or even to anyone with any knowledge of the matter. To make matters even worse, the UK Government seems determined to pursue wholly unrealistic negotiating positions, wasting precious months in the process of doing so. Indeed, so serious is the situation now that, at the weekend, one EU official was quoted by an Irish journalist as saying that the talks were heading for a “cataclysmic” outcome.

While we continue to make representations to the UK Government and seek to take us off the damaging course of a hard and unnecessary Brexit, the Scottish Government is intensifying its preparations for all exit possibilities in order to support the Scottish economy and our key sectors in what are and will continue to be very uncertain times.

The Parliament, too, will now have to step up its focus on the technicalities of withdrawal. We owe that to the many people in sectors such as agriculture, business and the third sector who need information to plan for the future and who have had no information from the UK Government over the past two years.

Of course, the Scottish Government will never bring to the Parliament recommendations that would restrain its competence and reduce its ability to serve the people of Scotland, but we need to press on with identifying and drafting the measures that are required to bring at least a degree of legislative continuity and certainty in these uncertain times. We will therefore provide the Parliament with the initial detail of the required secondary legislation at an early stage in the new session, and I expect that the intensive legislative process that will follow will get under way shortly thereafter. We will give the maximum possible opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny of each piece of legislation in line with the arrangements that are being developed by the Parliament and the Government to assist that process, and as outlined and improved during the passage of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

More widely on the issue of preparation, we have had significant recent contributions to the overall process, such as the agriculture champions’ report on the development of a future agriculture strategy, which was published at the end of May, and the report of the round table on environment and climate change, which was published shortly thereafter.

Last week, I announced the funding for a children and young people’s panel on Europe, and on Friday, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice published a further “Scotland’s Place in Europe” paper, “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Security, Judicial Co-operation and Law Enforcement”. Tomorrow, Fergus Ewing will lay out more detail on his post-Brexit plans for agriculture, and in the coming weeks and months we will publish more papers and will invite and propose more involvement across a range of subjects.

It is, of course, very disappointing that the response of the UK Government and the Scottish Tories to the taking of such initiatives by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and to the actual votes of this Parliament, has been unhelpful and is now contemptuous. That attitude means that we cannot, and devolution cannot, continue with a business-as-usual approach.

I have indicated some of the changes that are required in this statement; others will come forward in time. What can never be in doubt is that we are all here to protect and serve the best interests of the people of Scotland. Individually and collectively, we take our mandate from them, and we should always act with that—and them—at the forefront of our minds. That is the Scottish Government’s firm intention and it will be our firm intention going forward.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

So incoherent and inaccurate was that statement that it is difficult to know where to begin—but let us start with the Sewel convention. That convention provides that Westminster will not normally legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without our consent, yet it was Mike Russell who told the Scottish Parliament that

“these are not normal times”.—[Official Report, 1 March 2018; c 29.]

As for Lord Sewel, he has said just this week that there is no power grab, no constitutional crisis and no breach of the convention that bears his name. Michael Russell said that the times “are not normal” because he was seeking approval to rush half-baked and ill-considered constitutional legislation through the Parliament using emergency procedures, in defiance of Parliament’s conventions—and in defiance of the legal opinion of the Presiding Officer, no less, that the proposed legislation in question was beyond our legal powers.

Therefore, Conservative members will take from nationalists who are intent, as they are, on breaking up the devolved United Kingdom, no lessons on how devolution in the UK should operate. They are not the guardians of devolution; they are the would-be architects of its demise. They do not believe in the devolved United Kingdom—they believe in breaking up the UK. Indeed, that is all that they believe in.

Despite all Michael Russell’s bluff and bluster, important work remains to be done, not least on the UK-wide common frameworks that we have, hitherto, all accepted will be needed post-Brexit.

I have only one question. Will the minister today pledge to co-operate with the UK Government in completing that work, or is it now Scottish Government policy simply to obstruct the process, whatever the cost?

Michael Russell

It is notable that, in all that, there was no word of apology for the mere 19 minutes that were devoted to the subject at Westminster. One might think that there would have been from the Tories a moment of reflection that taking only 19 minutes was a mistake.

I will deal with two of the points in Mr Tomkins’s supposed question. First, the reality of the Sewel convention and the issue of times being “not normal” can be demonstrated in a piece of legislation: the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018. The explanatory notes for the bill explained that it was being dealt with “not normally” because there is no Northern Ireland Assembly. In contrast to that, the UK Government said no such thing about the EU withdrawal bill. In fact, David Davis wrote to me to seek permission for parts of that bill, so the UK Government knows when a situation is “not normal”. However, it did not say that to the Scottish Parliament because the UK Government’s definition of “normal” is that we agree with it; if we do not, we are not normal. That is not a definition of normality, even for Professor Tomkins.

Professor Tomkins asked me to pledge allegiance to something: I pledge my allegiance to the Scottish people, which is the constitutional position. Moreover, I will use that as the test for what we do. We will go forward on the issues that arise, including the frameworks, when doing so is good for the Scottish people. We will not go forward on them when that will not be good for the Scottish people, or when it is being done under the Tories’ definition of “normal”. If we are not like the Tories, apparently, we are “not normal”. Thank goodness I am not normal.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

During the past six months, Scottish politics has gone from high farce to groundhog day. Two sets of competing nationalisms have been throwing insults around and using the devolved powers stand-off not to seek a solution but to stoke up mutual antagonism for narrow party advantage.

David Mundell—a man who has sat in the UK Cabinet since 2015 without anyone actually noticing that he is there—gave commitments to table amendments in the House of Commons, but he completely failed to do so. Mike Russell tried to pose as a statesman, but that was utterly undermined by his party in the House of Commons, which risked losing the opportunity to debate devolution in terms of the withdrawal bill when its members stomped out of the chamber in a staged walkout.

Meanwhile, out there in the real world, people cannot get a general practitioner appointment, they cannot afford to buy a home, and too many children go to bed hungry.

Labour has been constructive throughout: we have suggested amendments in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, we amended the continuity bill, and we have called for cross-party talks. However, those two sides, like warring factions in a family feud, shout and scream at each other irrespective of the damage that is being done. It is infantile and futile.

Will the minister acknowledge that his is a minority Government in a Parliament that has a multiparty majority view on the matters at hand? Will he insist that new discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments be held on a cross-party basis in order to represent this Parliament?

Will he put any new proposals on the table? Will he confirm that, had his party’s position of last week prevailed, all progress with the amended clause 15 would have been lost and all devolved areas would have reverted to the UK Government?

There are very serious matters involved in this, but none that cannot be resolved. We can put men on the moon, Trump and Kim Jong-un can have peace talks, and Paisley and McGuinness have sat in Government, so are we really going to accept that two Governments cannot reach agreement on fertiliser quality, education qualifications, waste packaging and the rest? It is simply not good enough. Get it sorted.

Michael Russell

In the spirit of reconciliation, I am willing to sit down with Neil Findlay.

The reality of the situation is as follows. Neil Findlay knows that at the conclusion of the LCM process I asked David Lidington to come to Scotland, to sit down with the parties, and to have that conversation. He refused to do so. I am happy to repeat that invitation today, if the other parties are willing to do that, and I hope that that could move us forward.

I note that there was a proposal that formed the basis of the Labour amendments that were not debated last week, and which—according to David Mundell at the weekend—was made by Gordon Brown and Jim Gallagher. It was not terribly helpful that they did not come and speak to us; it would have been nice if they had done so.

However, I remain committed to working with members from across this chamber to try to find a solution, because I agree with Neil Findlay that this is not a good situation to be in. I want to find that solution, and am committed to doing that. I will be glad to work with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens—and I will be happy to work with the Tories, if they will do so, to find that solution.

If we can get everybody in the same room to discuss the matter, that would be fine. [Interruption.] Unfortunately, the noise in the chamber does not allow me to address the matter as clearly as I would like, but I want to make it clear that if we can get agreement to have those conversations, we will have them. I have already asked to meet the parties separately, as it happens, so that we can have such conversations. If those separate discussions—[Interruption.] I accede to the view that Mr Tomkins wants to get in a room with Neil Findlay as soon as possible. I will be happy to be in that room to have those discussions.

Neil Findlay

What about my other two questions?

Michael Russell

Neil Findlay will have to come back to me on those other questions.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I think that it is worth remembering that both Governments are minority Governments and have a responsibility to seek consensus, or at least agreement, where possible.

It is telling that it is those in opposition at Westminster who seem very often to be failing to derail the UK Government’s fundamentally destructive and chaotic Brexit project. There have been good opportunities to have cross-party dialogue and discussion and there is a clear cross-party majority in this Parliament against the actions that the UK Government proposes to take. In essence, the UK Government is treating Scotland as though it still has the right to impose direct rule. This Parliament has an absolute responsibility to reject that.

I think that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government would have nothing to fear in this context from inviting some international body to mediate or to achieve some degree of arbitration between the two Governments. I suspect that the UK Government would be unwilling to have that constructive dialogue. Would the Scottish Government be open to some kind of international mediation process? It is very clear that, at the moment, the UK Government simply is not listening.

Michael Russell

I think that the Scottish Government would be keen to see any input from a neutral source that would help us to move forward on this issue. I cannot imagine circumstances in which the UK Government would agree to it, but I am happy to confirm that it would be a good idea.

Patrick Harvie makes a very interesting point about direct rule. The Tories are presently using the Sewel convention as though it is a substitute for direct rule. Sewel is there to cope with circumstances in which the system of devolved Government fails. Using Sewel in these circumstances says that the system has failed and the definition of system failure that the Tories are applying is that we do not agree with them when they want to put legislation through.

That is a key point on direct rule that Patrick Harvie has made and it is worth remembering.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

It is not news that Westminster’s processes are archaic but the elephant in the room is the point that the minister made. The decision to leave the EU has brought about the worst political and governmental crisis for many generations.

Therefore, surely, is it not time for his party, for him as a minister, and for this Government to recognise that the particular need here is to put the outcome of the final EU negotiations to a vote of the British people?

Michael Russell

I do not think that my position on what we are talking about and what Tavish Scott sets out are mutually exclusive. I cannot speak for the British people, but I am very keen to see the Scottish people vote. In those circumstances, I am sure that they would reject leaving the EU. The issue is—how do we make that real? On 23 June 2016, the Scottish people said no to leaving the EU and they were ignored.

I have made it clear to Tavish Scott and to Willie Rennie—I am happy to go on doing so—that the question is whether we can square that circle. If we can square that circle, they will find no greater enthusiast for ensuring that such a vote takes place. I have had those conversations with people who are involved in those campaigns south of the border and I will be happy to continue to have those conversations with the Liberal Democrats.

If we can square that circle of what would happen in those circumstances, it will be more than possible to move forward; I would like to move forward, because I think that there will have to be a moment when people say, “We are sorry but we do not wish this—we do not wish to be dragged into the chaotic mess that the Tories have created.”

This is now all about a Tory civil war and the interests of any part of these islands are being sacrificed on that altar. That is an utter disgrace. The fact that there are Tories who know that—there are Tories sitting in this chamber who know that—but will not say it compounds the disgrace.

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that the position that the UK Government has adopted with regard to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill undermines the protection that is provided to the devolution settlement through the Sewel convention? Does he also agree that, although the Sewel convention may not be legally binding, it is nevertheless a very important constitutional rule, and any breaking of that rule by the UK Government therefore requires a serious and substantial explanation? Has the Scottish Government received such a serious and substantial explanation from the UK Government? I have seen reported excuses made by the UK Government but, to date, I am aware of no serious explanation for its power grab.

Michael Russell

The member makes a fair point. If any senior minister in the UK Government were to say to me that they are doing it for certain reasons and explain why the situation is, in those terms, “not normal”, I would be interested in having that conversation, although I probably would not agree. However, that has not happened. The sole thing that we can intuit from what we have seen is that, because we had the temerity to withhold legislative consent, that was sufficient to create the circumstances in which we are simply going to be overruled. That cannot be the operation of the convention, because all it means is that there is no purpose in having the convention, as any request for us to pass a legislative consent motion is pointless—if we do not do so, we will be deemed to have done it anyway, and we will just be overruled. That cannot be what the convention is about.

Interestingly enough, I think that that is the view of the majority of Labour members who have undertaken ministerial roles in devolved Administrations and, indeed, in the UK Government—Malcolm Chisholm’s contribution today was very helpful in that regard. Nobody who has seriously been involved in the administration of the Parliament or devolution believes in the definition that the Tories are applying, but they are applying it with a heavy hand at Westminster to the detriment of devolution.

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

We all understand that the Scottish Government does not support the UK Government position, but I want to ask about the on-going exit negotiations with the EU, which are now approaching their business end. What role does the cabinet secretary imagine that the First Minister and the Scottish Government can now play when the First Minister has recently returned from Brussels, where she busied herself in conversations with Michel Barnier, undermining the negotiating position of the member state with which the EU is charged with negotiating?

The minister again confirmed in his statement that he simply disagrees with everything. The Government of Wales and the mayor of London may disagree, but they are working constructively to ensure that important matters are represented in the negotiations, while the Scottish Government is just calling for ministerial resignations. How does that help anybody in Scotland?

Michael Russell

I do not think that the member is up to speed with what is actually happening. I saw a report of a conference last week at which Carwyn Jones strongly criticised the UK Government position and said that continued membership of the single market and the customs union is essential, which is what I said today. There is still a similarity in the positions that are being taken.

Let me deconstruct the logic of the member’s point. He says that, if the First Minister goes to Brussels and meets Michel Barnier and stands up for Scotland’s interests, she is undermining negotiations. If we extend that logically, the UK Government position is undermining Scottish interests, so the First Minister is doing exactly what she has to do, which is to set out the things that are important to Scotland. It would be easier to do that if there was a mechanism by which those issues are being represented and in which we had confidence.

I have sat at the JMC on many occasions when my colleague Mark Drakeford has asked what consideration the UK Government is giving to the central concerns of membership of the single market and the customs union. I remember that that happened before one of the Chequers meetings. Who is speaking for that in those meetings? There is no answer, because nobody is speaking for it in those meetings.

We have now started with these ministerial forums—I think that the next one will take place next week in London. Previously, we were shown a list of contents of the white paper, told that the white paper was not drafted and asked for our input. We then discovered a few days later from the press that the white paper had been drafted but was so controversial that it could not even be shown to ministers. We therefore do not really know what the purpose of that was. If that is what the UK Government calls genuine involvement, it needs to think again about that.

If there was genuine involvement in discussion and some indication that the views not just of the Scottish National Party or the Scottish Parliament but of Scotland—which said that it wanted to stay and, as a minimum, needs to stay in the single market and the customs union—were being taken account of, that would be progress but, as ever, the UK Government has shown itself to be completely cloth-eared on those issues and determined only to do what its extremists want. Those are things that most of the Tories in this chamber—the sensible ones—were opposed to two years ago and are now nodding through, knowing the damage that will be done to the people whom they represent.

The Presiding Officer

I suggest that we should have slightly more succinct questions and answers if we are to get to the rest of this item.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Many Scottish products benefit from EU schemes that help to maintain our unique brands and promote the provenance of Scottish produce, such as protected geographical indication status. There are signs that the UK Government might attempt to erode those special statuses to pursue free-trade deals. Has the minister received any indication that it will listen to vital Scottish interests?

Michael Russell

That is an important example of interests being held more widely across these islands as a whole. All the bodies and organisations that have products that are protected by protected geographical indication know that their position will be considerably weakened, particularly in the international markets, when that system is broken by our leaving the EU. They are saying to the UK Government that the situation must be sorted, but so far the UK Government has given no indication at all of sorting it. Indeed, I notice that the matter is now one of the key issues that are still to be resolved in the exit negotiations. It has gone up the agenda because the EU is also worried about the situation undermining the links that should exist between European protections and protections in these islands.

We will continue to support everybody who argues for the continuation of the PGI system, even if that means bringing two systems together in mutual recognition and—this is crucial—having continued regulatory alignment so that they cannot break apart. If they break apart, their value to Scottish whisky, lamb and beef, Arbroath smokies and—as Dr Allan is sitting next to me—Stornoway black pudding will be diminished.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

Does the minister accept the view that Jim Sillars, the former deputy leader of the SNP, expressed at the weekend that Nicola Sturgeon has soured relations between Holyrood and Westminster? If the minister is serious about protecting devolution, will he specifically commit to initiating cross-party talks before the summer recess to attempt to resolve the impasse?

Michael Russell

On the second point, the answer is yes. I have already made that commitment to Neil Findlay. There is a live invitation to Labour for those discussions and I hope that it will be taken up. I am keen for progress to be made on that.

As for Jim Sillars, it will come as no surprise to members on these benches and elsewhere that I do not agree with him and that this is not the first time that I disagree with him.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Does the minister believe that, by promising investment in the national health service in England under the guise of a Brexit dividend, Theresa May is not only treating the public “like fools”, to quote one of her MPs, but shamelessly disregarding the considerable concerns about the NHS after Brexit, including the prospect of a £3.7 billion cut to public services in Scotland by 2030 and the possibility that future trade deals could open up the NHS to privatisation?

Michael Russell

Those are key issues for exit. There is something deeply disorganised and deeply cynical about the claim of a Brexit dividend. There is no Brexit dividend; of that, there is no doubt of any description. Brexit will cost a substantial sum of money and I indicated in my statement what we expect that cost to be.

The Prime Minister’s promise exposes her absolute desperation. It is a gesture to the Brexiteers to ensure that they stay onside for something unpalatable that might be coming. It also opens up the Tory position on tax, which is an incredible position. In this chamber, the Tories have argued that any tax increases, particularly for health, are completely and utterly wrong. Now, of course, south of the border, tax increases are particularly good—we must put taxes up.

Where do the Tories stand on the matter? They stand on a completely irrelevant position. It exposes the emptiness of the Scottish Tories—many of us thought that that would happen eventually—and it simply shows that they take a position when they think that it is okay for them. The UK Government does not consult them at all. It is a bit like Scotland and England in the EU negotiations: we do not get consulted by the UK Government, but neither do the Tories in Scotland.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

On protecting Scotland’s interests, there was nothing in the statement about the powers that will require common frameworks to protect the market of £48 billion a year that Scotland has with the rest of the UK. What policy preparations has Mr Russell’s Government made for the scores of EU powers that we know will come to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

Michael Russell

I do not think that scores of powers are coming; the power grab is a power grab, no matter how we look at it. [Interruption.] People who deny that either do not know the situation because they have not read the material, or they are, unfortunately, not indicating what is true. Regrettably, that is the case.

As I said on the frameworks in my answer to Professor Tomkins—I do not know whether he drafted the question for Mr Greene before I gave that answer—the reality is that we will take the interests of the people of Scotland as our guide.

Adam Tomkins

Why not answer the question instead of being patronising?

Michael Russell

Presiding Officer, I am trying to finish my answer, but it is difficult to do that while Professor Tomkins shouts from his seat in his usual fashion. I put that on the record for those who do not know it. The Tories are behaving in the same boorish way as they do in the House of Commons; it was noted there last week, and it will be noted by viewers here.

We take the interests of the people of Scotland as our guide. We will follow that when we look at frameworks. If the approach is good for the people of Scotland, we will do it, but if it is good only for the Tories, we will not do it.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

Given that the UK Government appears intent on overturning the deal that it signed with the EU last December, and given that it has taken less than a week to renege on the commitments that it made to its own back-bench MPs in the debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, can the Scottish Government trust anything that the UK Government says in joint ministerial committee meetings or in Brexit ministerial forum meetings?

Michael Russell

My expectations are the lowest that they have ever been in the circumstances. I regret to say that, because having such discussions is difficult. However, I am much more worried about what the situation looks like to those who are outside the UK. When I was in Ireland for two days last week, there was bafflement at what was taking place.

A number of commentators have recently said that the view in Brussels and in Dublin is that the UK Government is in a parallel universe and is involved in all sorts of arguments and discussions that are utterly meaningless. That destroys any confidence. How can we have confidence in a Government that takes weeks upon weeks to put in a paper to Brussels a position that does not meet any of the requirements that have been laid down, as was indicated within a few days? That shows that the process is shambolic. We cannot have confidence in people who are involved in that.

The Presiding Officer

Questions on the statement are to finish at 5 past 3. Four more members would like to ask a question.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is right to defend the devolution settlement robustly—the minister has the Labour Party’s support for that—but does he agree that it is also important to make day-to-day progress on key issues? Immigration rules are to be relaxed for nurses and doctors—it is important to note that no new legislation will be required to do that. Precisely what discussions has he had with the UK Government on that point? Has he asked for a similar relaxation for workers who are needed in the Scottish interest?

Michael Russell

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has welcomed the decision on doctors and nurses and is planning an initiative to move that forward, although the measure does not go nearly as far as it should.

It is important to remember that the best thing that we could have is freedom of movement; anything less than that is difficult. In the JMC forum, I have discussed Scotland’s specific needs with the previous immigration minister. That concerned information from the Migration Advisory Committee.

We have raised sectoral issues, but a sectoral approach is not nearly as good as the much wider approach that freedom of movement provides. If we end up with a sectoral approach, we will need the most open and generous approach that we can have. Fruit gathering on the east coast of Scotland and the hospitality industry in Pauline McNeill’s area and elsewhere will have huge issues because of a shortage of staff this year. Given that, a sectoral approach might be necessary, but it is not nearly as good as the wider approach.

Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

Given that a Conservative Party that the people of Scotland did not vote for is using Brexit, which the people of Scotland did not vote for, to attack devolution, which the people of Scotland did vote for, does the minister agree that last week’s events strike at the very heart of Scottish democracy and that David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, was wrong to suggest that yesterday’s emergency debate in the House of Commons should be an end to the matter? Will the minister use every legal and political means to frustrate any attempt by the UK Government to undermine this Parliament’s powers and Scotland’s national interests?

Michael Russell

Yes, of course. This is not business as usual, That was made clear last week, it was made clear this week and it will going on being made clear. The reality is that what is happening undermines devolution and, as I indicated in my statement, we will not tolerate that. I am glad that there is support for our position throughout the chamber, except among the Tories, who will of course undermine devolution.

The Presiding Officer

I apologise to Rachael Hamilton and Ivan McKee that we do not have time for any more questions.