Powers abroad

Joan McAlpine (Perspective, 8 November) comments on the evidence I gave the Scotland Bill committee at Holyrood last week, regarding what is now clause 27 of the Scotland Bill. I fear she slightly mis-states the position.

The UK government has the power to enter into international agreements as it sees fit, and would do after the bill is passed.

In the master intergovernmental agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding and Supplementary Agreements, the UK government recognises the interest of the Scottish Government (and other devolved governments) in international policy relating to devolved matters.

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The UK parliament retains the right to legislate for such matters. International agreements now proliferate, of course, and affect a wide range of devolved matters. Clause 27 gives UK ministers power to act on such matters as well.

The only two cases where UK government can identify a need to act relate to two small and obscure bodies, but as I have made clear when giving evidence at both Westminster and Holyrood it could be used in a much wider way.

The UK government does not need a power as broad as that set out in the bill.

It is already protected against any financial loss that might arise, has some limited powers to act if devolved governments were to default in their obligation to implement international obligations, and the UK parliament can act in any case.

This would not “effectively give London the right, for the first time, to interfere in any area of devolved policy it likes”, as Ms McAlpine says, because any involvement would need to relate to a UK international obligation.

However, it does greatly expand the scope of potential UK intervention, as there are now so many such obligations.

It would have been better if this clause had never been included in the bill.

If the UK government insists on its inclusion, it could and should be narrowed in scope so it only relates only to specified international organisations or other obligations.

Alan Trench

Honorary senior research fellow

The Constitution Unit

University College London

Specialist adviser

House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee