13 March 2018

UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a pre-stage 2 debate on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Through the chair, I say to Graham Simpson that, from my very first speech in June 2001, I have whole-heartedly, unambiguously and continuously opposed the common fisheries policy, and I am immensely glad that we should be leaving that. Nothing in my previous 728 speeches is at odds with that.

I direct something to the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. Why are the groupings of amendments not numbered at stage 2? They are at stage 3.

I will speak to what would be, if it was numbered, group 11, which is called

“Exercise of powers under sections 11 and 13: integration with UK Government policy”.

I start by looking at Jamie Greene’s amendments 148 and 154. In his speech, he said that we should have watertight law and that we should judge our law by its content. In both his amendments, he uses

“UK Government policy or the negotiating lines of the UK Government”

as the basis upon which they are founded. Neither of those things is available to me. In particular, the “negotiating lines” are not available. Not only that, but they appear to change from week to week and day to day. Whatever merits there might have been in his amendments, they are certainly not watertight law, and they should be judged to be inadequate.

More substantially, I turn to Adam Tomkins’s amendments. By the way, I am going to say that there is an amendment from the Tories that I would be prepared to accept. I will come back to that. [Interruption.] Members should keep listening. That got the Tories’ attention for a brief second.

The key point about Adam Tomkins’s amendments 150, 151 et al is to take back powers that we currently exercise over agriculture, environmental protection and in particular fisheries, because amendment 150 states that

“No regulations may be made under subsection (1)”


“the consent of a Minister of the Crown”

is provided.

Adam Tomkins: Does the member accept that there is no such thing as taking any of those powers away from this Parliament, given that this Parliament cannot currently exercise powers in any of those domains because they are subject to EU law and we may not exercise powers contrary to EU law?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Tomkins is clearly not much engaged in the fishing debate. In fishing, we make our own regulations, which differ from regulations elsewhere, in requiring landing of species that are not caught on quota, for example. There is a difference between regulations here and those in the rest of the UK and what occurs elsewhere in the EU. The regulations form part of a framework, and we support frameworks—that is without doubt.

The same is true in relation to environmental protection and agriculture. There are clear differences in agriculture. In Scotland, 85 per cent of the area that is under agriculture has less favoured status, whereas south of the border the figure is 15 per cent. Therefore, there are entirely different requirements, which lead to the different legislative solutions that we definitely require.

The amendment that I could accept, were I in the Government, is amendment 122, which says that

“A Minister of the Crown may not withhold consent ... where ... a United Kingdom common framework has been agreed”.

That is fine, but it is a simplex amendment where we need a duplex solution. In other words, I would accept that amendment if the UK withdrawal bill had exactly the same provision in relation to UK ministers’ inability to act without the consent of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, it is possible to accept an amendment from Adam Tomkins and the Tories, but that would have to be utterly conditional.

We have joint decision making. As a minister, I was involved in joint decision making across the border on canals and on appointments to the Committee on Climate Change, on which all Administrations had to agree. Those are only some examples. We know that the Governments in these islands can work together effectively. Where fishing is concerned, we have to get a solution that moves us away from having 60 per cent of the fish that are caught in our waters being caught by foreign vessels, without legal oversight from the Scottish jurisdiction. We have to get that changed, and nothing that the UK Government could do, will do or has threatened to do that would take powers and the right to catch fish in our waters away from Scottish fishermen has had my support in the past or will have my support—not now and not ever.


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