Glue traps sales ban: letter to UK Government

Letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Shona Robison about concerns over the refusal of an Internal Market Act exclusion.

To: Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
From: Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance

Dear Steve, 

Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill – Ban on the Sale and Possession of Rodent Glue Traps 

I am writing in response to Lord Douglas-Miller’s letter of 26 March to my colleague Jim Fairlie MSP, Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity.   

Your colleague’s letter raises a number of concerning issues regarding the operation and effect of the Internal Market Act (IMA), and confirms the Scottish Government’s view that, far from providing an equitable, proportionate and rules-based mechanism for balancing the legitimate powers of the Scottish Parliament with wider economic and trade considerations, the Act is, in practice, an arbitrary and unaccountable tool for policing and constraining the Scottish Parliament’s powers.   

At the most basic level, some of the arguments set out in the letter of 26 March are simply illogical: is it really the UK Government’s position that a product already subject to a ban on its use and possession cannot also be banned from sale due to the “need to avoid barriers to trade wherever possible”?      

However, the issues run deeper: the letter also suggests that the UK Government believes it is legitimate to use the IMA – ostensibly a legal regime to protect intra-UK trade – to effectively overturn a policy approved by the Scottish Parliament.     

The letter states that:  

The UK Government does not consider that the evidence presented demonstrates that a ban on the sale of glue traps would be substantially more effective than a ban focused on their use and possession. The UK Government therefore does not believe that the case has been made that an exclusion under the UKIM Act is necessary to deliver the policy aims of restricting the use of these traps in Scotland. 

It is for the Scottish Parliament, not UK Government ministers, to reach a view on whether the evidence presented by the Scottish Government merits a given policy approach in devolved matters.  The relevant measure was passed with the support of every party in the Scottish Parliament – including the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party – on 19 March.  I am afraid the UK Government’s view on the advisability or necessity of law passed entirely within devolved competence by the Scottish Parliament is irrelevant, and certainly does not provide justification for undermining the expressed – and unanimous – will of the Scottish Parliament.   

It is not credible to claim that this decision is intended to avoid trade barriers and unnecessary disruption of economic and trade flows, given that in this case, the trade and economic impact is negligible to non-existent.   This decision underlines once again the flawed nature of the Internal Market Act, where the complete absence of any proportionality principle – an essential feature of any well-functioning internal market system – lays bare the glaring inconsistency between the Act’s stated purpose and its operation in practice.     

Given these circumstances and the lack of any proper explanation of the basis on which the UK Government has reached its conclusion, it will be important for there to be further consideration of these issues, first at the next meeting of the IMG scheduled for 1 May.  I will also be pursuing the broader intergovernmental relations issues this decision raises at the next meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Standing Committee.  

More broadly, I want to place on record my concern that it has taken the UK Government several months to reach and communicate its decision on what by any objective reading is a straightforward matter.  The issue of a sales ban was raised at Ministerial level in September last year, having been discussed by officials well in advance of the Efra Inter-Ministerial Group.    

Despite several reminders, including directly with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up at the recent IMSC, a response was received only after the Scottish Parliament had reached a unanimous position: this demonstrates a lack of respect for devolution and the Scottish Parliament. 

Given the significance of this matter and the issues it raises I am sharing Lord Douglas-Miller’s correspondence of 26 March and this response with Finlay Carson MSP, Convener, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee and Clare Adamson, Convener, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee in the Scottish Parliament.   

I am also copying this letter to Angus Robertson MSP, Mairi Gougeon MSP, Jim Fairlie MSP, Michael Gove MP, Huw Irranca-Davies MS, Mick Antoniw MS, Andrew Muir MLA, Michelle O’Neill MLA and Emma Long-Pengelly MLA.  

Shona Robison

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance

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