HC Deb 09 November 1999 vol 337 cc865-7
1. Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

What discussions he has had with the First Minister about the funding of the Scotland Office. [96345]

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

I have discussed the resourcing of the Scotland Office with the First Minister on several occasions.

Mr. Morgan

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and his whole Front-Bench team on retaining their posts after the recent Cabinet reshuffle. However, as his job is basically one of liaison and representation, why does he require a Minister of State, three special advisers, 64 civil servants and a budget 70 per cent. higher than the budget first set? Does he believe that that is good value for the taxpayer?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I must explain to him that, despite the wishes of the Scottish National party, my role is to represent Scottish interests here in the United Kingdom Parliament on reserved matters within the competence of the United Kingdom Government. It was always envisaged that more staff and financial resources would be necessary to enable me to do that, as no scoping study had been carried out beforehand. The hon. Gentleman omitted to point out that my total budget is 0. 03 per cent. of the Scottish parliamentary budget and—I believe from memory—is about the same as he and his colleagues demanded in various allowances for the Scottish National party. I dare say that the interests of the people of Scotland in all the important matters that are discussed here are better represented by my colleagues and myself than by him and his party.

Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

Of course the Secretary of State requires the resources to represent the people of Scotland. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when he is representing those interests, especially in matters that touch on deeply held religious beliefs and convictions, he does so with great sensitivity and careful consideration?

Dr. Reid

I can give that guarantee; I would not do otherwise, because of my respect for all the people in Scotland. I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to the Act of Settlement 1700, about which there has been much discussion. As a Roman Catholic myself—I am informed that, to the Government's credit, I am the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of Secretary of State for Scotland—I am only too well aware of the deep feelings and passions that surround the issue. I recognise that the discrimination inherent in the Act of Settlement is offensive to many people in Scotland and perhaps more widely. The fact that it has little practical significance does not negate its symbolic significance.

In the past I have merely pointed out that we have a heavy legislative programme based on our manifesto, which was endorsed by the people of this country and which we are pledged to implement. Neither the Prime Minister nor I have said that changes cannot be considered in future. Everyone in the House should be aware that too often in the past our country has been scarred by religious divisions. We all have a responsibility to handle the issue in a sensitive and considered fashion.

It does not help when those who have sat in this House, sometimes for years, and some as Ministers, and who have failed even to raise the matter, now parade themselves as the exclusive champions of non-discrimination. This is not an issue in which party advantage should or will be gained, and the Scottish people will not thank any party that attempts to use it in that way.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The Secretary of State has explained why his staff had to increase. Apparently, it was because of the absence of something called a scoping study—although what that means is anybody's guess. Can he also explain why, when the Secretary of State had full responsibility for Scottish matters and there was no Scottish Parliament, the holder of the office had only two special advisers, whereas now that we have a Scottish Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman has three? Surely that is a propaganda machine for the Scottish Labour party, which he badly needs to keep that lot—the Scottish nationalists—under control.

Dr. Reid

I must explain to the hon. Gentleman, who comes from a party that is a master of management, that a scoping study is simple: we look at the tasks that have to be carried out, we scope the resources required and then decide upon those resources. He omitted to point out that before devolution the Secretary of State for Scotland presided over 4, 300 civil servants, whereas I have about 64 civil servants, 20 of whom work for my hon. and learned Friend the Advocate-General for Scotland. It is interesting to note that the old unholy alliance between the SNP and the Tories wishes the Scottish people to be deprived of the efforts of their Westminster Members of Parliament. The ideas of the SNP and the Tories, their candidates, their policies and their philosophies have been consistently rejected in Scotland, and there is no reason to expect that to change.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

The Secretary of State talks about taking decisions on what money should be spent on the Scotland Office, and about the priorities of the Scottish people. Does he realise that the Scottish people's priority is investment in education and health? Does he also recognise their concern that continuing to invest in the Scotland Office could, in the long run, lead to a dependency culture among his Cabinet colleagues, who may fail to realise that they need to understand how their Departments except reserved matters in Scotland, and instead rely on him to pick up the pieces every time they get it wrong? Does he therefore accept that it would be much better if his budget were set by the Scottish Parliament, which represents the priorities of the Scottish people, so it could decide how much it wants to invest in that scope?

Dr. Reid

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the priorities of the Scottish people are education, health and unemployment. I am pleased to say that 38,000 young people in Scotland are now on the new deal and off unemployment. Incidentally, that programme was opposed by the hon. Gentleman and his party when we commended it to the Scottish people. On the relationship between the Parliament at Holyrood and this Parliament, the hon. Gentleman—for all the tuition he has received from his learned colleagues—has misunderstood the nature of devolution. The Scottish Parliament is not a sovereign Parliament that devolves powers and money here: this is the sovereign Parliament, and it devolves powers and money to Scotland.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

May I bring the Secretary of State back to the issue of funding? He will accept that over the past two weeks he has been stripped of most of his residual Executive functions in respect of Scotland. In those circumstances, how can he justify having three special advisers, who are clearly there to advise him only on the management of presentation and facilitation, not on policy issues? Is not there a danger that by taking that approach he will play into the hands of the nationalists by giving the impression that he is seeking to interfere in what are domestic Scottish issues when his actual Executive functions are negligible?

Dr. Reid

First, the hon. Gentleman, for all his attempts to understand the devolution settlement, still does not seem to realise that reserved to this House are powers over a plethora of important subjects for the Scottish people—taxation, the welfare state, benefits, fiscal policy, macro-economic policy, industrial policy, the new deal, oil and gas exploration and telecommunications. The Secretary of State needs advice on all those issues. Incidentally, two of the special advisers are paid from the public purse and one is unpaid.

Secondly, although it may have passed the notice of the hon. Gentleman, we have just embarked on the most radical constitutional change in Britain in three centuries. That takes no little handling, and the many issues of importance to the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom are serviced by the small number of civil servants who now form the Scotland Office and by the advisers whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

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