HL Deb 04 February 1998 vol 585 cc637-40

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what basis the Secretary of State for Scotland made his statement about the siting and development of the Scottish parliament at an estimated cost of £20 million; and how will this project be financed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel):

My Lords, the decision to site the Scottish parliament at Holyrood was taken on the basis of a thorough assessment of suitability of the site in terms of accommodation, building costs and the environment. Estimated construction costs of around £50 million, plus site acquisition costs, fees and VAT will be met from the Scottish block.

Lord Dean of Beswick:

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that I, and other people, have seen figures very much in excess of those quoted? If the cost of development of accommodation at the other end of the Palace has gone up from £100 million in the initial stages to £200 million, does the Minister agree that we are looking at substantially more money than the figure he quoted? Can he give an undertaking that if there is an escalation in costs it will come from the Scottish fund and not be met by taxpayers south of the Border?

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, we have made clear throughout that the funding of the Scottish parliament building will be met from moneys made available through the Scottish block. So the answer is yes.

Lord Inglewood:

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that it is in the public interest that public money should not be wasted. I am sure that he will also agree that it is not appropriate for this project to go forward in a niggardly, penny-pinching and cheeseparing way, for to do so would be to denigrate the devolution project. Which definition of the public interest applies in these circumstances?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, the definition of the public interest that applies in these circumstances is that provided by Her Majesty's Government.

Noble Lords:


Lord Steel of Aikwood:

My Lords, is the Minister aware that our Chief Whip has expressly forbidden me to raise any suggestion that the escalation in cost could have anything to do with the choice of wallpaper for the new building? Therefore, I shall not do so. Does he agree that, as this is a very sensitive site, the building must be distinguished without being extravagant? Will he accept that the final cost of an entirely new parliament building is bound to compare favourably with the £200 million already mentioned by the noble Lord for a mere office block extension across the road?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, I am not going to comment on the noble Lord's latter point. I thoroughly agree with him that we have to make sure that the new Scottish parliament is totally appropriate, a significant architectural statement, and of a quality that the people of Scotland, the United Kingdom and beyond can be proud of.

Lord Monro of Langholm:

My Lords, the Minister said that the building will cost between £60 million and £80 million. Is that sum to come from the Scottish block and, if so, what services will have to be cut? If it is not coming from the Scottish block, how much higher will Scottish income tax have to be?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, I believe I dealt with that question in an earlier answer.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe:

My Lords, in selecting the site was the Secretary of State for Scotland made aware that in the neighbouring premises Lord Darnley and Rizzio were murdered by their political opponents? Will he avoid any such eventuality?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, it depends who gets elected!

The Earl of Mar and Kellie:

My Lords, when considering that the cost of the Scottish parliament is less than £100 million and also that the Millennium Dome will cost more than £400 million, can the noble Lord tell me which structure he believes will be the first to become redundant?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, I am sure that both buildings will be fit for their purpose and will survive as long as they are necessary and required.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon:

My Lords, can my noble friend clarify the position of the Scottish block, as it is called? Does that mean that the block will continue—as I believe it will—to be financed through the Barnett formula? Does it also mean that there will be no addition to that formula for this particular building?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, there will certainly be no addition to the Barnett formula for that building.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon:

My Lords, when the Minister gave the details of the cost, he ventured the sum of £50 million for the building costs and left unspecified the amounts for site acquisition, professional fees and VAT. What is the maximum estimate of the cost of those three items?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, let me go through it again. We estimate £50 million for the construction costs and, I think, £4 million for the acquisition costs. I cannot give an estimate for the VAT costs or the fees.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas:

My Lords, can the Minister give an estimate of the annual running costs of the Scottish parliament? What effect does he anticipate that that will have on Scottish Office programmes?

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, perhaps I may seek the indulgence of the House. The reason that I could not give an answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, about fees and VAT is that I cannot do the percentage calculations quickly enough. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, asks about the running costs. The total running costs of the parliament—they should not be seen as additional running costs—are estimated to be between £20 million and £30 million per year.

Viscount Cranborne:

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but I was stimulated to do so by the tone of the answer of the noble Lord when he came to define "the public interest". I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure the House that he is responsible to Parliament, and in particular to this House, for justifying what is in the public interest. Arrogant statements of that kind do not go down very well either with the Opposition or with the House as a whole.

Lord Sewel:

Oh dearie dearie, we are a little sensitive from time to time! I thought that the point was that the noble Lord asked me to choose between definitions, one of which was based on parsimony and the other on extravagance—and I declined both.

Lord Annan:

My Lords, does the Minister agree that just at this minute it is very important that we should not try continually to score points about the cost to Scotland or the cost to England? Making the devolution process work will be difficult and if we do not make it work, it will end in a demand from Scotland for independence—and that would be a disaster.

Lord Sewel:

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his measured and wise comments. We should all consider those points.

Noble Lords:

Next Question!

Lord Geddes:

My Lords, may I advise the Minister that the VAT on £54 million comes to about £9.5 million?

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard):

My Lords, I am sorry to have to rise, but we have already had 16 minutes and I think that we should move on.