First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 21st June 2007.
To ask the First Minister what progress is being made in re-establishing joint ministerial committees with the United Kingdom Government. (S3F-83)
I intend to call for a meeting of the joint ministerial committee when Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister.
Does the First Minister agree that it is an indictment of the previous Administration that the joint ministerial committees, which the late Donald Dewar carefully established, were allowed to fall into disrepair? After the joint ministerial committees are re-established, will the First Minister take an early opportunity to raise the need to transfer powers under schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 from Westminster to Holyrood, starting with the repatriation of Scotland's oil and gas revenues to this Parliament?
Alex Neil and I are at one—as we always are—on wishing to extend the Parliament's powers. As for establishing the procedures, I hope that the argument for having a proper, organised and formal structure of decision making throughout the United Kingdom—between the Assemblies and the Parliaments—is supported not just in this chamber but in Belfast and Cardiff. Enthusiasm is great for putting decision making in a proper structure and for not tolerating the position that the last plenary meeting of the joint ministerial committee was in October 2002—perhaps that explains some of the misunderstandings and difficulties that have arisen in the intervening five years.
How does the First Minister plan to approach the Prime Minister to discover what was decided in Europe without a by-your-leave or information being sought from this Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly? From reading the Scotland Act 1998, I think that we should have been consulted.
The one joint ministerial sub-committee that is working is on Europe. Linda Fabiani represented Scotland at that sub-committee's meeting last week before the European Council meeting. She expressed concerns and identified issues on which Scotland has much at stake.
Before the Liaison Committee on Monday, the Prime Minister described a number of what he called red-line issues, with some of which we agree, such as the need to protect the independence of the judiciary in Scotland and the integrity of the Scottish legal system. Whitehall seems to be well aware that that issue is important.
We will certainly know more in the next few days about the full extent of what will come out of the European Council meeting. That will be followed by an intergovernmental conference. I hope and believe that the incoming Prime Minister will be very sensitive to the views of this Parliament, this Government and the people of Scotland in
I will ask about procedure. Does the First Minister agree that personal and political relationships with the UK Government are vital to the success of government in Scotland? He gave a commitment to Dr Paisley and Martin McGuinness to review the application of tuition fees to non-Scotland-domiciled students. Did he inform the UK Government of that, in line with the concordat between the Scottish ministers and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills? If so, when did he do that?
As I have been given the opportunity, I will say a word about what I found in Northern Ireland. [ Interruption. ]
It is inspiring to see two parties—indeed, many parties—working so closely together in a way that people would have thought unimaginable only a few weeks ago. That is the big picture that we should look at when we consider Northern Ireland, and we should do everything that we can to help.
As Robert Brown must know, we cannot remove fees for Northern Irish students under the terms of the order that the Parliament has passed. However, if the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland tell us that there are ways—not by abolishing fees—in which the flow of students between Northern Ireland and Scotland can be maintained and secured, given the situation, the Parliament and the Government should respond constructively and imaginatively.
The answer to the member's question is, "Obviously not," as the premise of the question did not arise.
Further to that point, will the First Minister report to the Parliament on the joint ministerial committees that he intends to set up? Specifically, I ask him to report on his plans to use English taxes to spend on Northern Irish students who attend Scottish universities.
That is an extraordinarily convoluted question. It would have been better if, instead of pursuing that line, the member had changed his question after he heard the previous answer. I will be delighted to report to the Parliament on the progress that I hope will be made in establishing the JMCs. We all have a great deal to gain from having organised and respectful decision making across these islands.