David Mundell: New Parliament, New Powers, New Partnership speech

Scotland Office

May 16
15:54 2016


Thank you all for coming.

People rightly have high expectations of their governments.

Those of us who hold office, for however long or short a time, bear a responsibility which transcends politics and personality.

We are entrusted with the leadership and direction of the state on behalf of our fellow citizens.

As President Eisenhower put it, governments task is to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations.

In Britain we are fortunate to have solid and time honoured national institutions.

Our constitutional monarchy, which has provided stability and continuity for generations.

Our parliamentary and democratic traditions, which are embedded in our society.

Our permanent civil service, which is politically impartial and serves governments of every hue.

Our armed forces, which have evolved over centuries into the finest in the world.

Our dedicated public service professionals, who teach our children, treat us when were sick, and provide the warp and the weft of our social fabric.

No institution is perfect and all need to move with the times.

But we should never overlook the fundamental strengths which are the hallmarks of our system of government, making it admired around the world.

In Scotland, alongside the UK Parliament at Westminster, we have a national institution of more recent vintage at the centre of our public life: the Scottish Parliament.

And from that Parliament is drawn one of Scotlands two governments, alongside the UK Government, drawn from the UK Parliament.

Two governments, each entrusted with different but complementary responsibilities on behalf of the people in Scotland.

The fundamentals of our devolution settlement are now stronger than theyve ever been before, following sixteen years in practice, the Calman and finally Smith reforms and the passage of the Scotland Act this year.

But structures alone will not suffice.

People have a right to expect, and Scotlands two governments a duty to deliver, a relationship between Holyrood and Westminster which puts the national interest first and political considerations last.

Frankly, people are sick and tired of the bickering and blame games and they want to see their politicians working together for the common good.

So I want to make a big offer to the incoming Scottish Ministers.

Lets reset the relationship between our two governments.

Lets put our political disagreements aside where we possibly can, and put our energies and talents together, to deliver a better future for Scotland.

And lets include everyone in Scotland businesses, charities, churches, trade unions, universities, private citizens in a new collective ffort to use the powers and potential which we all have, in this common endeavour.

The time is ripe for a new approach

Lets start with the new powers coming to Holyrood as a consequence of the Scotland Act 2016.

New powers

Next Monday, another major milestone in implementing the new powers will be passed.

Monday is exactly two months since Her Majesty the Queen gave Royal Assent and the Scotland Act became law.

This two month anniversary is the day when a range of important provisions to come into force.

The technical term is commencement. It means the Scottish Parliament will be responsible for those policies.

It can make law in those areas, where it has never done so before.

And its quite a list.

Before I talk about the big ticket items of tax and welfare, we shouldnt over-look the range of new powers coming to the new Scottish Parliament next week.

Take equal opportunities.

Commencing these new powers allows the Scottish Parliament to decide whether Scotlands public sector boards should be required to be gender balanced.

Gambling policy is another example.

If the new MSPs decide they should clamp down on the number of fixed odds betting terminals on Scotlands high streets, Mondays commencement of the gambling powers will allow them to do it.

They will also be able to determine the policy in Scotland on the sensitive issue of abortion.

I welcome the fact that the First Minister has said she has no plans to change the current arrangements.

But it is right that the new Scottish Parliament has that power, and I am confident MSPs will exercise it with the same sensitivity and judgement they have shown on other emotive issues in the past.

There are many other choices that will be enabled by next weeks round of commencement.

The Scottish Government will get to choose whether public sector operators can bid for new Scottish rail franchises.

The Scottish Parliament will have new powers to determine speed limits on Scotlands roads.

As well as new choices, we there also some new realities.

The permanence of the Scottish Parliament is now written in law, as is the Sewel convention, which states that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

So already, within two weeks of the elections to the Scottish Parliament, another milestone is reached.

These new powers, ready to be used by the new Parliament as it begins its work.


There are few responsibilities greater for a parliament than supporting the most vulnerable in society.

And the new Scottish Parliament will soon have a range of choices it can make to do just that, in a way that suits Scottish circumstances.

All of that, whilst maintaining the benefits of the single labour market, pensions and the sharing of risk that comes with Scotlands position in our United Kingdom.

The responsibility is significant around 2.7billion of spending in Scotland on last years figures.

A weighty sum. But the real value of the welfare devolution is the options it gives the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to help people.

The Scottish Government will be able to pay anyone on a reserved benefit a top-up payment of whatever amount they choose.

So if they decide Tax Credits, Child Benefit or Universal Credit should be higher in Scotland, the Scottish Government can use its resources to make that happen.

They will also be able to pay shorter-term payments to help anyone who has an immediate need and whose well-being is at risk.

The Scottish Parliament will have full responsibility for benefits paid to carers, to disabled people, to those who are ill, and to those who require help for winter fuel, funeral payments and for maternity payments.

Not only that, the Scottish Parliament will be able to create their own new benefits in any area of devolved responsibility.

They will be able to do this without any need to consult the UK Government.

This was something which was not in the original draft of the Scotland Bill, because we believed that power already rested with the Scottish Parliament.

But we listened to the Scottish Government, took their concerns seriously and changed the Bill to put it absolutely beyond doubt that the Scottish Parliament would have the power to create new benefits in devolved areas.

I look forward to hearing from the incoming Scottish government how they intend to use a power which they fought so hard to ensure they had.

Many of the charities represented here today will have ideas on this, and I encourage you to make your own representations to the Scottish Government.

Universal Credit remains a reserved benefit, as the Smith Agreement said it should, but Scottish Ministers will have new flexibilities for timing and frequency of payments.

And the new Scottish Parliament will be able to establish employment programmes that support disabled people, and that offer support to benefit claimants at risk of long-term unemployment.

These programmes, if well implemented, can be better aligned with the support the Scottish Government already delivers through the devolved skills system.

A good example of how the new powers will work alongside those already devolved.

How well approach the devolution

That makes it all the more important that the devolution of these new powers goes smoothly.

And that is an important focus for me and my ministerial colleagues in the months ahead.

Its vital that we work together with the new Scottish Ministers to get this right.

There are plenty of examples of how this has worked well in the past.

I will do everything I can to encourage good working between Scotlands two Governments.

Theres an opportunity for a fresh start with ministerial relationships.

Weve recently heard from the First Minister that she intends to recast the structure of her Government to take account of the new powers coming to Holyrood.

I welcome this fact.

Powers once dismissed as modest, are now accepted to be so substantial as to require the Scottish Government itself to be reshaped to take account of them.

Ill be working to arrange early discussions so that both governments can share and understand the priorities and the challenges that the new powers present.

We have the forums for this to happen: the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare, and the Joint Exchequer Committee responsible for overseeing the devolution of taxation powers.

Respectful, collegiate inter-governmental relations.

Thats what people in Scotland want to see.

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