HL Deb 03 November 1998 vol 594 cc138-40

2.58 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their most recent proposals for the future of Dover House in Whitehall.

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

My Lords, my right honourable friend is considering the likely demand for London accommodation following devolution next May. The Government will announce their conclusions in due course.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, will the Minister accept that Dover House has become the flagship of Scotland's interests within the United Kingdom and that it gives Scotland the opportunity and facilities for a strong voice within central government? Further, can the noble Lord dispel any rumours that the Prime Minister has other plans for it?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, yes.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the Government are so reluctant to tell us whether or not Scotland will be allowed to continue to have an interest in Dover House? Many of the elements that will most affect the future prosperity and well-being of Scotland will remain reserved to the Westminster Parliament and there will have to be a great deal of activity between Scotland and London on economic and other matters. Therefore, it is important that this flagship building continues to exist. Will the Government give us some assurance on the matter now?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, one of the main determinants of accommodation needs following devolution will be the view that the Scottish executive takes about its requirements in London in liaising with UK Ministers. That can clearly be decided only after we have a Scottish parliament and a Scottish executive in place. To a large extent it will be up to them to determine their accommodation needs.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does the Minister mean that the Scottish parliament's views will be taken into account to a greater extent than those of other people, for example, the Prime Minister?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, in coming to a view on meeting satisfactorily and adequately the accommodation needs in London of those who will represent Scottish interests, two basic matters will need to be taken into account: the requirements of the Secretary of State for Scotland; and the requirements of the Scottish executive.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, the noble Lord is well aware that Dover House is a modest size compared with other government offices in London, yet this prestigious building is situated in exactly the right place to represent Scottish interests in London. It is inconceivable that the Government should hand over this building to another ministry. Will the noble Lord go a little further than he has already in confirming that that will not happen?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that in this case small is beautiful and size does not matter. The precise accommodation needs of the Secretary of State and, I imagine, the Scottish Law Officer in London, and of the executive will be assessed. Those needs can be appreciated properly only once devolution is in place. Until devolution is in place, Dover House will remain as the Scottish Office.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, is it the Minister's assumption that after devolution Scottish interests will require more or less office accommodation in London?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I do not make any assumption about the accommodation requirements of the Scottish Office and of those who will represent Scottish interests after devolution. That is a matter for the Scottish executive.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, is it not well known that during her time as Prime Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, cast covetous eyes on Dover House in foreseeing a longer tenure in office than was the case? Why is the Minister so coy in his reference to the Prime Minister and his wife casting equally covetous glances at Dover House? It seems to me an admirable place in which to put a Prime Minister and possibly, in due course, a president.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, as regards the reference to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, that may have been the scourge of Dover House. I am not aware of the present Prime Minister casting any covetous eyes on Dover House. As I said, Dover House is the London base for the Scottish Office. That will remain the position certainly until devolution. It is appropriate that the accommodation requirements of the then Secretary of State and the Scottish executive are then reviewed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have no knowledge that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, cast covetous eyes on Dover House? Does the noble Lord recall George Robertson's phrase with regard to devolution; namely, that it would kill the nationalists stone dead? But the fact is they are alive and kicking. Will he therefore ensure that Dover House continues to be used by the Scottish Office, just in case at some time in the future Mr. Robertson has to eat his words in a big way and it is required by Scotland as the home of the Scottish ambassador to the Court of St. James?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, never fails to entertain us but that is one of his wilder flights of fancy.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the strong defence of the Union by the Secretary of State for Scotland made yesterday will be enhanced if Dover House is retained to represent Scotland's interests within the United Kingdom?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, much as I value and appreciate the opportunity of working in Dover House, I think that the robust defence of the Union does not depend upon a building.