Severe Weather (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:46 am on 17th January 1996.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 10:46 am, 17th January 1996

I am very grateful for the opportunity to debate the effects of the extreme weather conditions which prevailed over Christmas and the new year. The presence of so many Back-Bench Members in the Chamber indicates that the matter touched just about every constituency in Scotland.

Today, I shall focus attention on the response of the Scottish Office to a national emergency which demanded a nationally co-ordinated response. I think that the Opposition are united in the view that the performance of Scottish Office Ministers was inept and inadequate. That is also a common view in Scotland.

In recent years, the Scottish Office has not been a byword for speedy action and transparent accountability. That is, perhaps, a criticism that the House would expect from me. However, the whole of Scotland will wonder today why this debate on this subject is proving of so little importance to the Secretary of State for Scotland that he cannot drag himself to the Dispatch Box to consider the matter or to defend his record and the record of his ministerial team. I understand that all the other political leaders of Scotland seek to catch your eye in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are entitled to hear a reply by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Instead, he prefers to leave his junior Minister, the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), yet again, to carry the can for the crisis.

Clearly, we would not find on the desk of the Secretary of State the same plaque that was on Harry Truman's. For the Secretary of State, the buck clearly stops elsewhere. After hibernating during the freeze, he is now hiding from the debate. He might well hide because it is his Department that failed the people of Scotland in the recent crisis. He should, therefore, be here to answer personally for his Department's inadequacy. After all, the crisis in Scotland was his first major challenge as Secretary of State for Scotland. For the first time in the tenure of his post, there was an opportunity to show his mettle and to direct the resources available to him to do some good. At the end of 1995, the Secretary of State for Scotland was weighed in the balance and found wanting.

The Secretary of State was on holiday during the crisis. I have no doubt that it was a well-deserved holiday. It must be exhausting setting up quangos here, abolishing byelaws there, listening intently to trade unionists and councillors and generally being the caring, sharing face of Scottish Conservatism.