Oral Answers to Questions — Scottish Parliament

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17 February 1998.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 12:00, 17 February 1998

When he last met the Confederation of British Industry and the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the powers of the Scottish Parliament; and if he will make a statement. [28071]

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office

My right hon. Friend last met representatives of the CBI Scotland on 30 January to discuss a range of issues, including the powers of the Scottish Parliament. I last met the STUC to discuss its response to the Scotland Bill on 7 January.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

How does the Minister understand the process of consultation on the Scottish Parliament? Will he confirm that the minutes of the consultative group meeting for 19 January confirmed that the decision on the interim location of the Parliament would come before that body? The Minister accepted that proposal just last week. Why, then, are his civil servants briefing that that decision has already been made in favour of the general assembly building? Can the Minister say whether that is correct? If so, what is the point of having consultative meetings if the Scottish Office is proceeding by diktat?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office

Since 1 May, the Government have attempted to be as open as possible on every aspect of the Scottish project. That is why we established the consultative steering group, which involves all the political parties, to consider the nuts and bolts of the Parliament, its working procedures and Standing Orders. That process of consultation will continue. I can confirm that we shall discuss the options for the temporary home for the Scottish Parliament in that consultative steering group, but no decisions have yet been made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to make a decision in March.

Photo of Mr Eric Clarke Mr Eric Clarke Labour, Midlothian

Has the Minister had in-depth discussions with the Scottish CBI and the STUC on welfare to work?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office

That is not within my remit, but is within that of my hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry. When we have met the CBI and the STUC, they have been conscious that that project is exciting in terms of devolution and they want to be part of it. They are aware—as we are—of the aspirations of Scots to find jobs and to ensure that young people receive training. Those organisations want a prosperous and successful Scotland. Indeed, they have signed up with us to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State

When the Secretary of State met the CBI on 30 January, did he accept its concerns about the potential dangers to Scottish business inherent in the tax-varying proposals in the Scotland Bill? Did he undertake to make adjustments, if necessary by secondary legislation, to meet those concerns? Will he confirm that the concerns related, among other things, to the knock-on effects on capital gains tax? Will he assure the House that those concerns will be met in legislation before the Scottish Parliament comes into being and in a way that that Parliament will not subsequently be empowered to undo?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office

I am pleased to offer the right hon. Gentleman the reassurance he seeks. Tax-varying powers should not extend to the taxation of capital gains; the Bill achieves that in clause 69(2). On the wider front, the CBI made some positive suggestions and my right hon. Friend agreed to discuss those matters further before we finalise the technical details of the tax-varying powers.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

How many meetings he has had with European Union Ministers and Commissioners since 1 January to discuss future relations between the Scottish Parliament and the EU. [28072]

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

Since the start of the year, my colleagues and I have had 13 meetings with Ministers of European Union member states at regional and national level or with EU Commissioners. A range of matters were discussed, including our proposals for a Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has had that number of meetings. What attention has been paid to structural funds, which are vital to the future of the Scottish Parliament, the European Union and the economic and social structure of our society? By the time the Highlands and Islands Convention next meets, will the Minister be able to tell us what representations he has made in connection with the NUTS II programme, which is vital to defining the areas that will have access to structural funds? Can he advise us on what he thinks will be the best outcome of those representations?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

I think that the hon. Lady is trying to tempt me, at the Highlands and Islands Convention meeting, to look into the future with a certainty that I would not claim to possess. We are of course pursuing the matter energetically; I have discussed it with Commissioner Wulf-Mathies and Commissioner Flynn and a great deal of work is being done at official level. We are all aware of the Commission's opening position and of the changes that that might suggest in respect of this country and Scotland. We also recognise that those are opening shots in what may be a fairly protracted campaign in which we intend to engage fully.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat, Orkney and Shetland

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government's policy in respect of relationships between the Scottish Parliament and Executive and the European Union remains as was set out in paragraph 5.6 of the White Paper, specifically that "in appropriate cases" Scottish Executive Ministers will be able to speak for the United Kingdom in Council meetings? What assessment has he made of post-Maastricht legislation in Germany, which gives the Lander rights of early information on EU proposals as well as rights of representation and of speaking?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

The hon. and learned Gentleman may be horrified if I admit to inadequacy, but I have not looked specifically at changes in the Lander situation. I do know that we are working out what I believe are extremely satisfactory arrangements within the United Kingdom. I am familiar with the passage of the White Paper he mentions and that remains our position. There will be a United Kingdom delegation and Scotland will be represented in that delegation. As now, it will be a matter for the delegation to decide who speaks and when. That system has worked well in the past and I expect it to continue to do so.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State

When will the Secretary of State accept that those relations cannot be left to the transient invitations of Westminster Governments or to unenforceable concordats made without benefit of parliamentary endorsement; and that to do so would be to betray the assurances given in the White Paper? Does he agree that if someone says that his word is as good as his bond, a wise man will always take his bond; and that the Scots have a right to see those assurances entrenched in statute and not to have to rely on promises politically given and easily broken?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Secretary of State, Scottish Office

That is a clever remark, but it gives a rather unfortunate insight into the level of trust within the Conservative party. It is puzzling that those who speak with the greatest enthusiasm about the partnership that is the United Kingdom are those who question most persistently whether it can be trusted to work. I believe that it can and that it will, in the mutual interests of us all.