THE Scottish Government is holding “urgent” talks to prevent a plot by unelected Lords to give Westminster new “Henry VIII powers” to unilaterally scrap Scottish environmental rules, The National can reveal.

An amendment to the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would give ministers in London the power to overturn rules made by the Scottish Parliament – with minimal scrutiny or accountability.

The Scottish Government said it was “deeply concerned” about the changes to the bill – which would also see Scotland treated less favourably than Wales or Northern Ireland – and that it was in “urgent” talks with Westminster about the plans.

Tory life peer Baroness Scott of Bybrook (below) tabled the concerning amendment which was passed by the Lords last week. It relates to a new environmental regulation system the UK Government hopes to introduce.

The National:

Environmental outcome reports would regulate the environmental impact of construction – but the new regime would also give UK ministers the powers to “change or scrap aspects of environmental law which should be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament” according to the charity Scottish Environment LINK.

In a briefing paper produced on the bill in August last year, the charity warned about the so-called “Henry VIII powers”, saying: “The Bill will enable a UK minister to create [environmental outcome report] regulations through secondary legislation.

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“These regulations may be applied to environmental protection across the United Kingdom, including Scotland, and in offshore areas.

“The Secretary of State will be able to alter or remove existing legal environmental protections.

“This is an example of ‘Henry VIII powers’ when ministers can amend existing primary legislation.

“This could allow the Government to weaken environmental protections with minimal parliamentary or public scrutiny.

“The bill states that the Secretary of State may use these new [environmental outcome report] regulations to ‘amend, repeal or revoke existing environmental assessment legislation’.

“This power affects 18 existing sets of regulations originating from primary legislation, covering areas including oil and gas exploration, nuclear power, and transport.”

The paper goes on: “Responsibility for the environment is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as are related areas including planning.

“The Levelling Up Bill will allow UK ministers to use ‘Henry VIII powers’ in devolved areas, giving the UK Government the ability to change or scrap aspects of environmental law which should be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament.

“UK Ministers will be able to amend, repeal or revoke legislation, including Acts of the Scottish Parliament and other devolved assemblies, placing requirements on public bodies to comply and cooperate with the new system of [environmental outcome reports].

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“Neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish Parliament will have the ability to reject these regulations.

“The bill does not expressly require consent, instead it only requires the UK Government ‘consult’ with Scottish Ministers.”

This last provision is at odds with how the rules would operate in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The amendment put forward by the Government would require the “consent” of the Welsh and Northern Irish governments to overturn their laws – while merely requiring for the Scottish Government to be consulted on such changes.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is deeply concerned about this bill, which seeks to treat Scotland less favourably than Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We are in urgent talks with the UK Government to resolve this situation.” 

The National:

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer (above) described the plans as an “outrageous power grab” and said they strengthened the case for independence.

He said: “Tory efforts to undermine and dismantle Scottish devolution, often aided by Starmer's Labour, are becoming increasingly dangerous.

"We've been down this road so many times before. But it has only got worse since Brexit, when they passed new laws that gave them the power to veto decisions made by our elected Parliament in a way that would not have been possible just a few short years ago.

"Whether it is the anti-democratic block on gender reform or the internal market act, which has been every bit as damaging as the Scottish Greens and others warned it would be, the UK government has shown a total contempt for devolution.

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“Any party that claims to care about Scottish democracy must oppose this outrageous power grab. Only independence will protect us from these relentless attacks.”

Chris McEleny, the general secretary of the Alba Party, said the revelation should “serve as a wake-up call" to the independence movement.

He said: “In Scotland we already have to live our lives hostage to a Westminster Government with free reign to impose nuclear weapons on our shores without our consent; with the ability to send our troops to illegal wars; impose a hard Brexit on us against our will; seize our vast offshore oil and renewables bounty without reward; or make economic decisions that impact all of our lives without being voted for by the people that live here. 

“This latest assault on Scotland, our Scottish Parliament and devolution itself should serve as a wake-up call to the independence movement. Enough is enough.

“Only independence can defend the people of Scotland from the moral vacuum of Westminster.

“It’s time to put Scotland first before the needs of political parties and fight the next General Election as ‘Scotland United’ to seek a mandate to enter straight into independence negotiations with the UK Government.”

Arguing for the amendment last week, the Tory deputy leader of the House of Lords Earl Howe blamed the Scottish Government for the discrepancy between the treatment of Wales and Northern Ireland on one had versus Scotland on the other. 

He said: "At this stage, following discussions with the Scottish Government, the provisions for Scotland do not include this same consent mechanism for matters relating to devolved legislative competence, and the UK Government retain the ability to legislate in areas of devolved competence for Scotland, subject to a duty to consult.

"It is absolutely vital for the UK Government to preserve, in limited circumstances, the ability to legislate UK-wide to ensure assessments can continue to work across our different regimes.

"Unfortunately, the Scottish Government currently do not wish to support the necessary legislative framework for this to function.

"We are continuing to engage with the Scottish Government and stand ready to bring forward further amendments once these discussions have run their course."