HC Deb 29 June 1999 vol 334 cc128-31
8. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

If he will make a statement on the role and responsibilities of Ministers in the Scottish Office after 1 July. [87521]

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

Ministers will continue to have the role of representing Scottish interests across the range of matters that are reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament, as well as assisting in relationships between the British Government and the Scottish Executive, and between the two Parliaments.

Mr. Forth

Given that the answer to virtually every question on the Order Paper this afternoon so far has been, "Not me, guv—it's a matter for the Scottish Parliament", and given also that the Parliament already seems to have a propensity to spend vast sums of taxpayers' money on buildings, salaries, assistants and expenses, why does not the Secretary of State give the taxpayer a break? Why does he not give a pledge now to reduce significantly the size of his Department and the number of Ministers and officials in it, in order at least to get his bureaucracy off the taxpayer's back, even while the Scottish Parliament is increasing its bureaucracy?

Dr. Reid

I could have given the right hon. Gentleman a list of matters on which we have an important role in representing the Scottish people, but I am sure that it would have bored him.

Mr. Forth

It would not.

Dr. Reid

In which case, I shall start. Please stop me, Madam Speaker, when you feel that I have gone on too long. We will have the function of representing the Scottish people within the UK on fiscal matters, economic and monetary policy, taxation, social security benefits, occupational pensions, personal pensions, exchange rates, financial services, banking and insurance—shall I continue? The list also includes the designation of assisted areas and industrial assistance throughout the United Kingdom, international relations including the European Union, broadcasting, the Post Office, and electricity generation, transmission, distribution and supply. Is that enough, Madam Speaker? I shall continue the next time the right hon. Gentleman has a question.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

May I ask my right hon. Friend about one of the matters for which he has responsibility—the allocation of structural funds within Scotland as part of the UK settlement that was so successful for the highlands as a consequence of the Prime Minister's intervention? Can my right hon. Friend tell us his thinking about the safety net arrangements, particularly for areas such as that of Clackmannanshire council in my constituency? The council is concerned about the fact that it is not eligible for the first level of award under objective 2, although it would be eligible under the safety net. Would that be part of a UK settlement, or will there be a specific Scottish settlement, or has the matter not yet been resolved?

Dr. Reid

Discussions are continuing as regards the assisted areas map and objective 2 status. As my hon. Friend probably knows, the Prime Minister was extremely successful in winning a safety net at the United Kingdom level—the member state level—at the Berlin summit. We start from more difficult circumstances in making a case for assisted areas and objective 2 status, because the last time the assessment was made, under a Tory Government, we were in the middle of the most serious recession for a long, long time, with extremely high levels of unemployment. We have been much more successful under the Labour Government. Nevertheless, I shall pay close attention to the points that my hon. Friend raised about his area.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that after 1 July he will continue to have jurisdiction over the setting of boundaries between Scotland and England in terms of territorial waters off the coast of the United Kingdom? Is the Secretary of State aware of the anger and consternation among the fishing communities around Berwickshire about the changes that were brought in by the recent Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999? Would he support legislative proposals in the House in the near future to reconsider the parts of that order that transferred the Berwickshire bank from Scottish jurisdiction to English jurisdiction?

Dr. Reid

Everyone would agree that when two Parliaments instead of one sovereign Parliament have jurisdiction—we also have a devolved Parliament now—we have to find the fairest way of settling the distribution of areas of jurisdiction between them. The way that was chosen in this case was the method most commonly accepted by international standards for fixing a line over the jurisdiction of territorial waters.

In respect of whether that has been a fair settlement, I remind the hon. Gentleman that two thirds of British territorial waters have been passed to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament, that no one outside those waters who is a Scottish fisherman has had his rights in any way diminished and that there is a precedent for where someone is taken to court. Previously, if an offence had been committed, English fishermen were taken to Scottish courts and vice versa. Finally, not only in the past 12 months, but in the past three years, not one offence has been committed in that particular area.

Having said all that, which I said to the Scottish Fishermens Federation, if fishermen can show that serious and significant practical disadvantages are likely to arise from a settlement that has put two thirds of the territorial waters of the United Kingdom under Scottish jurisdiction, I will of course look at that issue.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

I thank the Secretary of State for taking the time to give us a long list of responsibilities that remain with the House of Commons—my constituents speak of little else—but he unfortunately failed to reach social inclusion on his list. Can I have an assurance that Scottish Office Ministers will retain an interest in the matter, make sure that agencies relevant to social inclusion on a United Kingdom basis take an interest and follow through the steps that are necessary to improve the situation in Scotland? Will he also do what he can to make sure that Members of the House have places on social inclusion partnership boards, in particular in localities where they want to be so involved?

Dr. Reid

I shall try to do both those things and I am glad that the good people of Pollok are as interested as they no doubt are in social inclusion and other issues such as consumer protection, telecommunications, excise duties, betting, gaming and lotteries, regulation of anti-competitive practices, monopolies and mergers, intellectual property, regulation of drivers' hours, internet services, transport of radioactive material, war pensions, employment rights, health and safety at work and a whole list of others. I shall not turn the page.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Secretary of State has reeled off a long list of reserved matters, but does he agree that all those reserved matters fall within the remit of United Kingdom Departments as well? It would therefore be interesting to know what Scottish Office junior Ministers will be doing. Will they be answering specific queries relating to those matters or is their role that of marriage guidance therapists for the relationship between him and the First Minister?

Dr. Reid

The Ministers and the Secretary of State, along with Scottish Members of Parliament, will be representing the interests of the Scottish people in the reserved matters, as the White Paper said. The hon. Gentleman may not have read it, although it was debated in the House. I shall refrain from reading to him another page of the list of the responsibilities that we have, but I understand his difficulty in appreciating what any Member of Parliament can do. He is the Member of Parliament who said: The Conservative party may not have any Scots Members of Parliament, but that is the electorate's fault."—[0fficial Report, 13 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 229.] I am afraid that we take a different view in Scotland; we think that is the fault of the Tory party that it has no Scottish Members.