Devolution

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:18 pm on 3rd June 1999.

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Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour 3:18 pm, 3rd June 1999

I was concerned, Mr Deputy Presiding Officer, that you would announce that I should rise and respond to this debate-alas, I will.

I will take Donald Gorrie's points first. Schedule 20 to the Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Adaptation of Functions etc.) Order 1999 is not confused, because the purpose of the order is to try to clarify whether it should be the UK or Scottish ministers who deal with particular appointments. I hope that he will accept that reassurance.

Schedule 9 to the order refers to the Lord Chancellor because he is the responsible member of the Westminster Government who deals with the matter concerned. It is nothing more sinister than that.

Donald Gorrie also asked to which secretary of state the schedules referred. I realised only about three years ago that, in any piece of Westminster legislation, there was seldom a specific reference to the Secretary of State for Defence, or to the Secretary of State for Scotland and so on. The only reference is to "secretary of state"-that is the terminology used. In this case, depending on what the schedule was, it would reflect the appropriate minister. The references are not to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I have dispensed with the easier parts of my response. I will take Michael Russell's comments next, because, in a sense, if we were here to talk about a settlement for a separate, independent Scotland, there would be some validity to the points that he made, and I say that to the SNP in a constructive sense.

Michael Russell knows full well that in the "Scotland's Parliament" white paper-which was published in 1997 and which was the subject of a very successful referendum of the Scottish people-we were absolutely clear about cross-border public authorities and indeed about the bodies to which he referred, such as the energy regulators, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the Health and Safety Commission. In the white paper, we said:

"In certain reserved areas, the activities of other UK/GB bodies which are accountable to the UK Parliament will continue to be significant in the economic or social life of Scotland, and therefore likely to be of interest to the Scottish Parliament."

However, those are reserved matters. I think that Michael Russell knows that there will be an opportunity for Scottish ministers to become involved in appointments to the bodies that we have just described and to other bodies. There will also be an opportunity for reports of those organisations to be lodged in this Parliament. We can make a distinction between a demand and an invitation, but I suspect that many of those bodies will accept an invitation from this Parliament to meet a committee or the Parliament.

One of the things that we tend to forget about devolution is that, whether the matter is reserved or devolved, this is a very powerful Parliament. The Parliament will be listened to if it discusses issues that touch on reserved matters. As for the specific bodies that Michael Russell mentioned, we have faithfully delivered on the white paper commitments. His comments would have been more valid if there had been another type of settlement, and I suggest that he knows full well the position regarding those bodies.

As for the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority, the orders debated yesterday give Scottish ministers involvement in appointments to those bodies. Those bodies are of interest to Scotland, and the Parliament could consider issues that pertain to them, which backs up my point about the Parliament's involvement in wider issues.

The Equal Opportunities Commission, the ITC and the Radio Authority are not cross-border public authorities, but operate in reserved areas. I should stress that, as part of the devolution settlement, we have substantial devolved powers and substantial executive devolution, and the Parliament has a role in matters wholly reserved to Westminster. That role has been detailed not only in the white paper, but in every step along the way to the current situation of the Parliament.