QUESTIONS: Westminster ‘seeking to overturn a promise made between Scotland’s politicians and Scotland’s people’

By Bill Heaney

Scottish National Party leader Stephen Flynn informed the House of Commons today that the Scottish Government had kept their manifesto promise to to pass the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood. He told Prime Minister Rishi Sunak he must recognise that it is a dangerous moment for devolution when both he and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, were now seeking to overturn a promise made between Scotland’s politicians and Scotland’s people.

Stephen Flynn, Rishi Sunak and Alister Jack clashed over gender legislation in the Commons.

The Prime Minister said: “Let me be crystal clear: the decision in this case is centred on the legislation’s consequences for reserved matters. This is laid out in the Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament and, at the time, it was supported by the SNP.

“This Bill would have a significant adverse effect on UK-wide equalities matters, so the Scottish Secretary [Alister Jack], with regret, has rightly acted.”
Stephen Flynn was not content with that answer, and he hit back at Mr Sunak: “Let me be crystal clear. This is the Conservative party seeking to stoke a culture war against some of the most marginalised people in society, and Scotland’s democracy is simply collateral damage.
“On that issue of democracy, let us reflect, because on Monday the UK Government introduced legislation to ban the right to strike, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government; on Tuesday, they introduced legislation to overturn the GRR Bill, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government; and this evening they will seek to put in place legislation that rips up thousands of EU protections, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government. Are we not now on a slippery slope from devolution to direct rule?”
The Prime Minister denied this. He told the House: “No, of course we are not. This is simply about protecting UK-wide legislation and ensuring the safety of women and children; it is not about the devolution settlement.”
He urged Mr Flynn and his party to consider engaging with the UK Government on the Bill, as we did before the legislation passed, so that we can find a constructive way forward in the interests of the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom.”

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Neale Hanvey, the Alba MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, his back at criticism from the government in general and the Transport Secretary in particular, implying that NHS workers are deliberately putting people in danger.
He claimed the Health Secretary was pitting dedicated nurses against vulnerable patients—does the Prime Minister really expect the public to believe that the very people who have dedicated their lives to saving life and limb are so reckless?
Is it not the case that this Government have pushed them to their absolute limit and they have no other option but to strike?
The Prime Minister denied this. He said: “We have enormous respect and gratitude for all our public sector workers, especially those in the NHS.
“That is why we have backed them with not just record funding, but record investment in more doctors and nurses, with 15,000 more doctors, 30,000 more nurses and more lifesaving equipment that will help them to do their jobs. We continue to want to engage constructively in dialogue with them.”

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Labour MP Navendu Mishra claimed the Prime Minister “showed his cards this week by ramming through the sacking nurses Bill—he has literally gone from clapping nurses to sacking them.

“His Transport Secretary has said that the Bill is unworkable, and the Education Secretary has said that it is not needed. Why does the Prime Minister still want the Bill?”

Rishi Sunak told him: “It was the Labour party that showed its cards this week when it came to backing working people.  What I would say is that if he really cares about supporting patients, if he really cares about children getting the education they receive, if he really cares about working people being able to go about their lives free from disruption, he should join in supporting legislation which is prevalent in many other countries to ensure minimum safety levels in critical public services, and get off the picket lines himself.”

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Wayne David, a Labour MP, raised the question of dangerous dogs and the fact that two people—a 10-year-old boy and a senior citizen—lost their lives after being attacked by dangerous dogs. Fatalities have also occurred in other parts of the country. It is clear that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is woefully inadequate. The Government have commissioned studies and debated the subject at length, but they have done nothing. My question is: when will the Government take action on the issue of dangerous dogs?”

The Prime Minister told Mr David he had raised “a very important case” and that he was very sorry to hear about the specific families involved.

He said: “We recognise that dog attacks can have horrific consequences, and I want to assure him that we take the issue incredibly seriously.

“That is why we have established a working group between police, local authorities and other key stakeholders to consider all aspects of tackling irresponsible dog ownership.

“That working group will make its recommendations later this year, and of course, the Government will respond promptly.”

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Sarah Green, a LibDem MP, said that many of her constituents are struggling to keep up with their energy bills this winter.

She added: “When families fall behind, they are too often punished by being switched over to prepayment meters, which are more expensive do nothing to help their financial situation.

“Will the Prime Minister back our call to ban energy companies from forcibly installing prepayment meters and stop them switching smart meters over to prepayment meters remotely?”

The Prime Minister assured her that Ofgem has specific regulations in place regarding the use of prepayment meters and how energy companies should treat those who are struggling with their bills.
He added: “I am pleased to say that her constituents will receive, at a minimum, around £900 of support with their energy bills this winter as a result of this Government’s actions.”

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Labour MP Dawn Butler told Mr Sunak: “When I had breast cancer, I had phenomenal nurses. When I had to be rushed to A&E, the ambulance crew looked after me. Unison and GMB are on strike because nobody is negotiating with them.
“For the first time in the history of the Royal College of Nursing, its members are on strike today after being balloted.
“I have spoken to the general secretary of the RCN, and she is adamant that she wants to end the disputes; she just needs a meeting with the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister show leadership and meet the RCN? It is a simple yes or no.”

But Mr Sounak countered: “At the turn of the year, the Government wrote to all unions, including the RCN, to invite them for frank, open, honest, two-way dialogue with the relevant Secretaries of State.

“I am pleased that those meetings are happening in a range of sectors, and I hope we can find a constructive way through this.”

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Alba MP Kenny MacAskill tackled Rishi Sunak on the question of gas and electricity charges.
He said: “The Prime Minister is well aware of the injustice of prepayment meters, not least because he commented on it in response to an earlier question. It is long-standing, with higher tariffs and higher social charges.
“Why, then, has he allowed a situation where hundreds of thousands have been forced into that penury when winter is upon us, prices are rocketing and 8.4 million people are facing fuel poverty in April?
“All he requires to do is instruct Ofgem to ensure that there is an equalisation of tariffs between debit and credit, and ensure that his Government take steps to provide a fund for those who have seen debt arise because of his Government’s failures. Will the Prime Minister end the manifest injustice of the poor paying most?
The Prime Minister said: “I think this proposal would also increase Bills for many millions of families, so I am not sure it is the right approach.
“What we are doing is providing around £900 of specific support for all families’ energy bills this winter, and there is further targeted support for those who are most vulnerable, which is absolutely the right thing to do.
“As the Chancellor has already announced, we are also consulting on the best thing to do going forward, including options such as a social tariff, as part of our wider reforms of the retail energy market.”

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Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP) told MPs that David Cameron told the Commons that the Scottish Parliament was “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”,.

He added: “Yet the Prime Minister continues to block the Scottish Parliament’s clear mandate to allow Scots to choose their own future.

“On Monday, he sent his MPs through the Lobby to deny Scottish workers the right to strike, despite overwhelming Scottish Parliament opposition.

“On Tuesday, he sent his Secretary of State for Scotland to block a Bill of the Scottish Parliament that was voted for by 70% of MSPs, including Tories. Does he still think that David Cameron’s ridiculous assertion holds any water? 

The Prime Minister said: “Some 347 Acts have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, which is undeniably one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world. In this exceptional case, it is clear that the Bill has adverse consequences on UK-wide equalities legislation. In those exceptional circumstances, the Scottish Secretary [Alister Jack] has regretfully taken the decision to block passage of the legislation.
“As I said previously, however, we want to engage in a dialogue with the Scottish Government to ensure that we can find a constructive way through.”

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