HC Deb 27 July 1999 vol 336 cc104-7
2. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

If he will publish a guide for the public on the reserved powers relevant to Scottish matters and how they are dealt with in the House. [91599]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

A range of important issues are reserved to the UK Government. Many of those are of crucial importance to ordinary people's day-to-day lives in Scotland—for instance, employment and taxation policies, social security benefits, occupational and personal pensions and the new deal. That is why, before the devolution referendum, each household in Scotland received a leaflet summarising the reserved and devolved matters. Further information was issued ahead of the 6 May 1999 elections.

Mr. Clarke

Despite the confusion that the chattering classes have sown in the Scottish media, I welcome what my right hon. Friend says about issues such as taxation, social security and other matters which remain the clear responsibility of this House. Given that Government policy and the reserved powers that we have retained and their impact on the daily lives of all the Scottish people are of supreme importance, will he continue to reassure the Scottish people that this Parliament will protect their interests, working in partnership, but very much a part of the United Kingdom?

Dr. Reid

Yes, I can assure my right hon. Friend of that, and I can also assure the Scottish people that Labour Members of Parliament from Scotland will be here to involve themselves in ensuring that their interests are protected. When the people of Scotland listen to the criticisms that have been levelled by the leader of the Scottish National party and its parliamentary leader—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I see that the leader of the SNP is not here today again. As that hon. Gentleman is so interested in my role, I checked how many times since 2 July he had asked a question in the House—remember, this is when the Scottish Parliament is not sitting—and the answer was none at all. I checked how many times he had taken part in a debate, and the answer was none at all. And I checked how many times he had voted, and up until yesterday morning the answer was none at all—and I suspect that after the past 24 hours, it is none at all again. As I have said, people will want to ask what, exactly, moneys, allowances and Short money from this Parliament are being paid to the SNP for, since SNP Members are taking money from a Parliament in which they do not believe for something that they are not doing.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has reserved for himself 200 civil servants and a new official residence in Edinburgh, and that he has creamed £5 million off the Scottish block to be spent at his personal discretion? Why should the English taxpayer have to featherbed all that empire building in Edinburgh and overlapping extravagance between two of the Queen's rival Ministers?

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman lives up to the Tory slogan, "Never get one thing wrong when you can get three wrong." First, I have not reserved to myself 200 civil servants. At the moment I have 50 and I may have more than 100 at the end of the day, compared with 4,200 for the Scottish Parliament. I have heard that called empire building, but it will surely be the first empire where the leader will know each member by his or her first name. Secondly, I have rejected the idea of a separate residence, and that is precisely why I have authorised negotiations on offices in Edinburgh where 20 of the 26 rooms will be allocated to civil servants. I did not want a separate residence. Ill-tutored though the hon. Gentleman may be from his reading of the English papers, he does not improve himself by reading some of the Scottish papers.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) raises an important issue concerning the education of the public not only in relation to our powers and his powers but in relation to the powers of other elected representatives and the matters best dealt with by them. Are not constituents occasionally a little confused about the respective responsibilities of elected representatives? Do we not therefore owe it to them to provide them with information about who is the best representative to approach with a problem concerning the CSA, the social security system or whatever?

Dr. Reid

My hon. Friend is right. I have never said that there is a simple solution to all those problems. We have to consider the fact that more guidance might be necessary, but, if we are in the world of grown-up politics, we should realise that we cannot carry out constitutional change of such magnitude without having to work through problems. The First Minister and I are attempting to do that—in a businesslike fashion and in partnership. I believe that that partnership is immensely beneficial to the Scottish people and it is certainly their preference. The one thing they want is people working together in partnership; the one thing they oppose is divorcing Scotland from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

The Secretary of State's Department has fewer responsibilities than at any time in its history, so why is he amassing an army of up to 130 civil servants with an annual budget of £5 million taken from the Scottish Parliament, which could be better spent by it in providing services for the Scottish people? Why is he undermining his own Government's devolution settlement while Scottish Executive Ministers are openly and publicly squabbling among themselves?

Dr. Reid

With great respect, may I list the military hierarchy for the hon. Gentleman? An army consists of several thousand people, which is what the Scottish Parliament has. Beneath that is the brigade, which I do not have. Beneath that is the battalion, which I do not have. Beneath that is the regiment, which I do not have. Beneath that is the company, which is what I have. My company consists of about 100 people. The hon. Gentleman seems to be concerned about expense and the £5 million, but he obviously did not notice that all the details were issued by the Treasury on 31 March. They were available to him but, like his colleagues, he was probably not here. If the SNP spent a little bit of time working for its money, it would have been able to find out about these matters. The £5 million to which he refers is 0.03 per cent. of the Scottish Office budget.

Let us consider what the SNP is receiving. I do not mind the hon. Gentleman taking two salaries and two parliamentary allowances, if he does so, but I know—[Interruption.] He may not, but I know that the SNP takes two lots of Short money: £134,000 here and £170,000 in the Scottish Parliament. In addition, it voted itself another £1 million in allowances at Scottish parliamentary level. If SNP Members are taking that sort of money, they should do some work here occasionally to represent the interests of the Scottish people.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The right hon. Gentleman, who was such a marvellous Minister for the Armed Forces, should not allow himself to become so tetchy merely because he is now a member of a partnership more improbable than any since Fox and North. For the benefit of everyone concerned, will he devote a little time during the forthcoming recess to compiling a list of those matters for which he is responsible as Secretary of State? He read out a great litany from the Dispatch Box during the last Scottish Question Time, but he was responsible for not one of those matters. We want to know what he is doing for his money.

Dr. Reid

The reference to North and Fox reminds me that we should keep off the subject of foxes in the present context because other people will get tetchy. I was not at all tetchy. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to go through the whole list again I shall do so, but I suspect that he does not. My main role in the House is to represent the interests of the Scottish people in all the reserved matters, which he well knows. My other role is to promote the devolution settlement. I have to play a part in negotiations on payment of the block grant and I also have some residual functions. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the nature of collective government means that it is important for Scotland to have its interests represented in Cabinet discussions on such matters, and for the position of the Scottish people to be made clear. If the hon. Gentleman tells me that, logically, no one who does not have to make the ultimate departmental decision for anything can play an important role, I would remind him that the total departmental role of the Prime Minister is national security and honours. I hope that he would not suggest that the Prime Minister has no authority or power.