HC Deb 23 February 1999 vol 326 cc163-4
2. Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

When the concordat on inward investment between his Department and other Departments will be published. [70819]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)

Concordats will be discussed and concluded between United Kingdom Government Departments and the Scottish Executive, rather than the Scottish Office. My Department and others continue to undertake sensible preparatory work ahead of those discussions.

Mr. Moore

Many people in my constituency and across the borders will be hoping that the concordats that are drawn up are a vast improvement on the present regime. Much anger is felt in the borders about the way in which Viasystems is closing two profitable plants with the loss of 1,000 jobs and the fact that all the work is being transferred to other parts of the United Kingdom. Despite that, no Government agency has intervened to examine the substantial grants that the company received in other parts of the country at the expense of the borders. Will the Secretary of State accept that it is now time to hold a public inquiry so that we can resolve once and for all the real issues behind that sorry mess?

Mr. Dewar

Of course, I understand the hon. Gentleman's dismay and anger at what happened in the Viasystems case. As he knows, I have discussed it with a number of interests in the borders, including those who have worked in the plant. He is wrong when he says that no attempt has been made to examine what happened and, in particular, the transfer of work to factories in other parts of the country. The Department of Trade and Industry has considered the issue exhaustively with much encouragement from my Department, and we have not found any technical infringement of the rules. It is a sad chapter, but the public inquiry envisaged by the hon. Gentleman would not be the best approach to it.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Will the Secretary of State publish the latest draft of the concordat on inward investment and will he tell us whether he intends to have a period of shadow running, as suggested in the guidelines on concordats published in February? If he does, will he consult the other political parties in Scotland before any period of shadow running commences?

Mr. Dewar

I must confess that I have never been clear about what shadow running means. I am not a great shadow runner, or indeed a great runner at all. That is perhaps a personal sadness. I repeat what I have already said: we are undertaking sensible preparatory work ahead of the discussions. I stress to the House that any agreement about the working guidelines—that is what the concordats are—between the United Kingdom Administration and the Scottish Administration is a matter for discussion between the parties. I would have thought that the Nationalists would welcome that. I notice from The Scotsman yesterday that Mr. Michael Russell—an important SNP apparatchik—was quoted as saying: The Scottish general election will give the mandate for such agreements to be drawn up between Holyrood and Westminster. To have them drafted beforehand by civil servants, party apparatchiks and political hacks is not acceptable.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether the concordats will, in principle, be subject to judicial review? Does he think that there is much chance that the concordats will emerge by consensus when a senior figure in the SNP is quoted today as saying: the SNP executive is already made up with a proportion of so-called fundamentalists"?

Mr. Dewar

I am never sure whether "fundamentalist" is a religious or political term, because it has a wide use. I do not wish to interfere in the private problems of the SNP, which have been illustrated by articles in the papers today. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but the concordats are ground rules, not legally binding matters. Therefore, I would not expect them to be in court.

On the subject of consensus, I hope that everyone in Scottish politics will have the best intentions for the running of the new Administration and their relations with the United Kingdom. We all want to see the system work and I hope that it will be approached in a consensual manner. Even if differences arise, I hope that they will be discussed and settled amicably.