HC Deb 15 July 1997 vol 298 cc193-4
33. Mr. Rowe

To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what is the estimated annual cost to public funds of sittings of the Scottish Grand Committee. [6724]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission)

Separate estimates for the additional indirect costs of the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee are not kept independently. A manual check of the records for the financial year 1996–97 for the 13 meetings that were held of the Scottish Grand Committee furth of the Palace of Westminster totalled £108,000, an approximate cost of just under £10,000 per meeting.

Mr. Rowe

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he believe that the cost of the proposed Scottish Parliament will be very much greater? Would he envisage the Scottish Office team of Ministers, which is paid for out of United Kingdom funds, being cut pro rata? Does he think that that would be a good idea?

Mr. Kirkwood

I can confidently give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the House of Commons Commission has no immediate territorial ambitions to invest in real estate in Edinburgh; we have enough difficulty dealing with estimates to cover the costs of the administration and works budget. These are matters for Ministers of the Crown. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make his political point in his own way, but I suspect that the publication of the White Paper next week will provide him with a better opportunity so to do.

Mr. McAllion

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the costs of the Scottish Grand Committee during the past Session were inflated because of the decision taken by the then Secretary of State for Scotland to take the Committee on a tour of every constituency in Scotland that had a Tory Member? As every one of them was defeated in the subsequent general election, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there has never been such a waste of public money at any time by any Government?

Mr. Kirkwood

The House of Commons Commissioners are simply servants of the House; we will the means while the House wills the ends. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of a motion of 30 June, which will restrict the number of meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee during the coming Session. It is true that some of us believe that the former Secretary of State for Scotland had an eccentric predilection for compering in important but out-of-the-way parts of Scotland early on Monday mornings late in the winter.

Mr. Forth

Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to install an accounting system that will show the English taxpayer how much of the costs of these exercises he is expected to bear in indulging these Scottish nonsenses?

Mr. Kirkwood

Perhaps I may advert to the fact that Standing Order No. 117 contains powers for a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is being left out and treated less well than Scotland, which has access to a Scottish Grand Committee, the Leader of the House might table a motion to constitute such a Committee and the hon. Gentleman could have the same benefits as members of the Scottish Grand Committee.