European and External Relations

General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 9th December 2004.

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Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 2:00 pm, 9th December 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will appoint a single minister to deal with European and external relations. (S2O-4433)

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I am responsible for external relations, including co-ordination of European Union policy and contact with institutions, member states and regions of the EU. I confirm to the member that I am single.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for his reply and point out that I am not single, as can be witnessed.

Distributing the subject between six portfolios for which the minister has a co-ordinating role is really a bureaucratic mechanism to suppress the Scottish Parliament's aspirations. Given the importance to the Parliament of the European Union and the many countries outwith the union that are interested in our procedures, does it not make more sense to have a single, dedicated minister as the first contact point for all our inward visitors, who can call in experts from various departments when required?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

It is a matter of some regret to me that the member is not single.

Ministers and Scottish Executive officials are progressing our European strategy with vigour. The European Union has an impact on a considerable amount of our work and it is critical that we engage with that institution comprehensively and that we use the experience that is available to us on individual portfolios and from ministers.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

Does the minister agree that the biggest European and external relations challenge that faces us is ratification of the new constitution? Will he work with ministerial colleagues across portfolios to ensure that the constitution's clear benefits to the people of Scotland are known?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I assure the member that that is exactly what we in the Scottish Executive will do. Apart from all its other benefits, the new treaty recognises more than ever before the European regions with legislative power and proposes ways in which they will be more comprehensively involved in the business of the European Union. That is good for Scotland and for the Parliament's standing. We will pursue those benefits with vigour in the interests of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

First, I will fill the minister with concern by saying that I agree almost totally with his response to Margaret Ewing.

I suggest that Irene Oldfather's question underlines the total misunderstanding that lies behind the European constitution. Ministers' individual responses to issues that relate to the constitution provide a rather confused appreciation of what it contains. As the co-ordinating minister, will the minister undertake to ensure that all ministers—and not least the First Minister—fully understand the implications of the constitution?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I admire the Conservatives' consistency. They have never been much competition in the past and I do not see them as being much competition on this occasion.

The misunderstanding and confusion are on the part of Conservative members, who have consistently misrepresented the good work that is done in the European Union and its positive impact on Scotland. They do themselves a disservice by continuing to misrepresent that work and its impact. The Executive coalition is certainly determined to continue to represent the many positive benefits of European Union membership.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

Does the minister agree that important sections of the constitutional treaty would give increased power to sub-state national Parliaments in their say on European legislation? Will he kill the myth from the Tories and will he endorse the work of that noted member of the Scottish National Partly, Sir Neil MacCormick, by appealing to the SNP to come off the fence, stop being entangled in fisheries nets, come with us and fight for the constitution and its ratification?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

Mr Raffan has succinctly summed up everything that is good about the treaty and has again shown his expert knowledge of the European Union. His is exactly the kind of voice that we need in Scotland to explain to people how great the benefits of European Union membership are.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Among Mr McCabe's many responsibilities, he has responsibility for efficient government. Will he say whether it is efficient for the Government to have failed to reply to a parliamentary question that I lodged on 12 October, which simply asked for the Government to set out which ministers are responsible for which parts of external affairs? Currently, six or seven ministers are responsible, depending on how the matter is considered.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

The simple answer is that it is right and proper for ministers across the Executive to play a part in our external engagement with the wider world. That is what the people of Scotland would expect and that is exactly how we intend to serve them. I hesitate to suggest that it is possible that we have had difficulty in interpreting Mr Swinney's question, but I will check the position and get back to him as soon as I possibly can.