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The devolution settlement is not up for renegotiation, David Mundell tells Scottish Affairs Committee

The devolution settlement is not up for renegotiation, David Mundell tells Scottish Affairs Committee

David Mundell - Image credit: Parliament TV

A review into how effectively the UK Government works with the devolved government in Scotland will not lead to changes to the devolution settlement, David Mundell has said.

Speaking to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the Scottish Secretary stressed that the review, announced by the Prime Minister last week, was purely focused on strengthening the Union.

“Let me be clear: the devolution settlement is not up for renegotiation. This is not a review of devolution” Mundell said.

He went on to say: “We have no plans to make changes to that settlement.”

The nature and scope of the new review, headed by former Scotland Office Minister Lord Andrew Dunlop, was the focus of questions from the committee as part of its recent inquiry into the state of the relationship between the Scottish and UK governments.

Asked what precisely Lord Dunlop would be looking in to as part of the review, Mundell said: “I think he will want to look at how, on a practical level, the governments of each part of the UK rub along together.”

The UK Government’s “presence and visibility” in Scotland would likely be an aspect the review focuses on as well.

The Scottish Secretary also faced questions about reports in the media that the Prime Minister had discussed a plan to spend tens of millions of pounds on new efforts to promote the Union amid fears of a potential rise in support for Scottish Independence.

Responding to questions on the media reports, Mundell said: “I don’t believe everything I read in the press” but did go on to say “my belief is that 10 downing street is actually the department for union”.

The Scottish Affairs Committee published a report in June on the relationship between the UK and Scottish governments.

The report described Westminster-Holyrood relations as “characterised by mutual distrust” brought on by years of policy divergence, the Scottish Independence referendum and now the Brexit process.

“The current system of intergovernmental relations is not able to cope with the pressure being placed on it”, the report concluded.

The committee called for several measures, including a review of the role of the Scotland Office and the possibility of introducing a third-party mediator for resolving disagreements between governments.

The Committee also suggested that an option of replacing the Scotland Office and other territorial offices with a single department be looked in to. Such a department would be responsible for intergovernmental relations and would hope to “rebuild trust”.

The UK Government responded to the report on Wednesday, just hours before Mundell appeared before the committee.

In its response, the Government agreed that relations between the governments were far from optimal but disagreed with the committee’s characterisation of a “breakdown”. The Government said the disagreements were down to political disagreements rather than failure of process.

The Government did say, however, that the Brexit process “requires us to look into fresh ways of supporting intergovernmental relations.”

Last week the Prime Minister Theresa May announced a review of devolution while on a visit to Scotland. The review will be chaired by Lord Dunlop, a former Scotland Office Minister.

Announcing the review, May said: “Whereas the UK Government is invested in the success of devolution, it would suit the political aspirations of the present Scottish Government for devolution to fail or to be seen to fail.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to the announcement of the review by Tweeting that the review was a “desperate act by a Prime Minister who has shown zero respect for the Scottish Parliament during her time in office.”

David Mundell welcomed the review, saying it will help the UK Government understand whether it is doing “all it can to strengthen the Union”.

The Scotland Secretary has previously said that a no-deal Brexit could “threaten the continuance” of the Union.

Writing in the Observer last week, Mundell said: “A difficult no-deal Brexit would not only damage our economy, it would fuel nationalist claims of a UK that is insensitive to Scotland’s needs.”

The House of Commons will be holding a debate on Thursday to mark 20 years since devolution.

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