David Mundell – 2020 Speech on Constitutional Law

Below is the text of the speech made by David Mundell, the Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on his return to the role of shadow Secretary of State for Scotland after his sabbatical? One of the great disappointments to me in my time as Secretary of State was the announcement, following his departure from that role, and in the absence of a Front-Bench spokesman, that either the Leader of the Opposition himself or the shadow Chancellor would participate in Scottish questions. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, immediately before the first such occasion, a shadow Scottish Secretary was appointed.

This process is important. It is unusual not just because we are participating in a virtual Chamber but because we are in the Chamber more generally. Usually, section 104 orders and others that flow from the original Scotland Act are transacted on the Committee corridor and get very little attention, but, as the Minister said, they are in many ways the backbone of the devolution settlement and the relationship between the two Governments and Parliaments. It is very easy, particularly given some of the headlines and media reports that we have seen in recent weeks, to think that the devolution settlement is not working, but this order and all the others that go through Parliament are actually a manifestation of the fact that it is working. Behind the scenes, officials in the UK Government and Scottish Government work closely together to ensure that these orders and the things that really matter to people in Scotland—the provision of a police service and a criminal justice system—go ahead in a way that relates to the whole of the United Kingdom. As the Minister said, ​this order ensures that, if people are in England or Wales, such orders still apply and the benefits system recognises that.

It is very important, when we see the flare-ups that sometimes happen between politicians north and south of the border, that we understand that, in the day to day, the devolution settlement is working and has been tested through these systems. There were many times when I had to put through orders on matters of substance with which I did not agree, but I did agree that the Scottish Parliament had made that decision, in terms of the devolution settlement, and therefore it was appropriate that the Westminster Parliament and the UK Government ensured that that legislation was fully enacted.

I want to give my thanks and praise to the police in Scotland for the job they do more generally and what they have done specifically during the coronavirus crisis. I particularly commend the chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, for his calm, measured approach to these matters. He said right at the start that it was important that he continued on the basis of policing by consent. From my experience, and from feedback I have received from constituents, I think that has been achieved. That is very important. He underpinned that by setting out three key roles for Police Scotland: ensuring that social distancing is enforced to reduce the mortality rate during the spread of the virus; ensuring that the relationship of trust between the public in Scotland and the police is maintained; and, of course, ensuring the welfare and safety of not just police officers but their families.

I also commend the chief constable on his very reasoned approach. When there were some differences in the guidance between England and Scotland and we heard some unhelpful suggestions, from my point of view, that we should have border patrols, Iain Livingstone was clear that that would be a wholly inappropriate use of police resources. That was very helpful for my constituents, many of whom cross the border regularly.

The Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland have already alluded to the shocking report that in the first few weeks of the lockdown 100 officers had been attacked or the subject of abuse. As the deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said, that is outrageous and disrespectful. Abuse and assault are simply not part of the job of police officers and can never be tolerated. I think that that is at the heart of the legislation in the Scottish Parliament and this subsequent order to ensure that we do not in any way accept that the abuse or assault of police officers is regarded as routine or tolerated. In the event of such behaviour they must be supported in every way.

I do not think that we waited six years for this subordinate legislation to come through just so that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who in 2014 was the Justice Secretary in Scotland and brought forward that Act, could speak in this debate. I am sure he must be disappointed, given the passion that I know he has for this matter and for an effective criminal justice system, that it has taken quite so long for the legislation to be fully enacted and this order put in place, just as I am sure he was disappointed that it took until 2019 for the victim surcharge fund, which was also announced in 2014, to get up and running in Scotland.​

This is not, Mr Deputy Speaker, the place to rehearse arguments that are rightly had in the Scottish Parliament, but it would be wrong for me not to ensure that the House is aware that my Scottish Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are concerned about the Scottish National party Government’s approach to the police and justice system in Scotland, particularly in relation to the ongoing issue of police funding and the ability of the police to do the job that is important to them. Indeed, my colleague Liam Kerr MSP has brought forward legislation in the Scottish Parliament which would give police officers even further protection. The events to which I have just referred, which have happened to police officers on at least 100 occasions, demonstrate that it is appropriate to have additional measures in place. Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will continue to advocate for that, and to call the SNP Government to account on their approach to policing and justice in Scotland.

The order, however late in the day, is to be welcomed. It is important that, wherever people who have been asked to make such an order are in the United Kingdom, the orders can be effectively approached. I therefore hope that the House will take the view that the order should be passed.

I have one specific query that I want to raise with the Minister, which is in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions and its ability to deal with such things at this time or in the immediate future. As we know, and as the shadow Secretary said, there has been an increase in the existing claimant count, so that is an increasing workload, but it has also obviously prioritised within its workload. I hope the Minister, in his closing remarks, will confirm that the DWP will in due course have the capacity to deal with these orders. We all want to see a minimal amount of these orders, because the optimum situation would be—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. We gave you a bit of injury time to get the question out and I know the Minister heard it. Thank you very much for your contribution. I call Kenny MacAskill.