HC Deb 26 November 2002 vol 395 cc143-5
1. Mr. John Baron (Billericay)

When she will publish the results of her consultation on the size of the Scottish Parliament. [81439]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

I hope to be able to make a decision before the end of the year.

Mr. Baron

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but given that at present there are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, each representing on average 25,000 constituents, whereas, on average, the figure south of the border is closer to 70,000, and given that politicians can often be the problem rather than the solution, does the right hon. Lady agree that the pleas of most MSPs should be ignored and that the interests of the Scottish people would be better served by a smaller, more effective and less expensive Parliament, as envisaged by the Scotland Act 1998?

Mrs. Liddell

I really wish that when Members pick up hand-out questions from the Tory Whips they would do a wee bit of homework before they come into the Chamber. There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 73 of whom are elected under the first-past-the-post system and the rest of whom are elected under the list system. Indeed, it is the list system that has allowed the Scottish Conservatives some life after death in Scotland.

There has been a lengthy consultation exercise and people who have a genuine interest in the success of devolution have given a range of responses to it. I shall take those responses fully into account, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have reached this stage because of a consensus built up across civic Scotland, of which the Scottish Conservative party is not a part. I shall seek a conclusion that builds on that consensus.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

As someone who was involved in the project from day one, I never saw the Conservatives express any interest whatever. All they did was to tell us how useless it would be and that the Scottish people would reject it. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Scottish Conservatives have refused to make the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State cannot answer for the Conservative party. That is not what she is here for.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Has the Secretary of State had time to consider our proposals for a leaner, fitter, more focused Parliament, with fewer MSPs, which would go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the Parliament as a whole? Given that the Deputy Minister for Justice in Scotland was reported as calling firefighters "fascists", does she agree that far too many MSPs and far too many Ministers in Scotland are undeserving of public support?

Mrs. Liddell

I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities on the Front Bench. It is an historic day to see at the Dispatch Box an elected Conservative representing a Scottish constituency, and I wish him well in his deliberations.

On the Government Benches, we know that the Scottish Conservative party does not wish the Scottish Parliament well. The 18 years of Conservative Government helped to focus people's attention on the need for a Scottish Parliament. I shall take into account all the representations made to me, including those from the Scottish Conservative party. They will be taken into account when I make my decision, which will, I hope, be shortly.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Given that the Secretary of State is the only person to have seen the consultation document, she will have had plenty of time to come to a view about the future size of the Scottish Parliament. Does she agree with the unholy alliance of Labour Back Benchers and Conservatives who believe that the numbers must be reduced, or does she agree with me, the rest of the Scottish National party and the overwhelming majority of MSPs that 129 should be retained? The question is straightforward and simple: does the Secretary of State believe that 129 should be retained? Yes or no?

Mrs. Liddell

I have to respect the traditions of the House. I entered into a consultation exercise, and I am not the only person who has seen the consultation document: 800 copies have been distributed, 1,300 hits have been made on the Scotland Office website, and there have been 230 replies. I shall deliberate on them. I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that the reason that there is a Scottish Tory at the Dispatch Box is the failure of the Scottish National party in Galloway.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

It ill behoves the SNP to make any comment about the size of the Scottish Parliament, given that neither the SNP nor the Conservative party were part of the process in the first place.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that her response to the document will be based on the constitutional convention consensus, and that it will take everyone's views on board?

Mrs. Liddell

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I congratulate her on the work that she did in the Scottish constitutional convention. There has been a wide range of responses from people, and I have asked for some additional work to be done on those responses because I am anxious to reach a conclusion that meets the needs of the broad spectrum of people who have responded to the consultation exercise.

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