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Scottish Grand Committee

8. Mr. Home Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the impact of the work of the Scottish Grand Committee on the work of his Department in the current Session of Parliament. [38711]

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): Meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee fall within the parliamentary responsibilities of Ministers and the normal duties of officials.

Mr. Home Robertson: Is the Minister aware that, when my teenage son asked me whether the Scottish Grand Committee was a quango, I had to explain that it was nothing like as powerful as that? Will he confirm that the substantive decisions taken by the Scottish Grand Committee in all its travels round 11 locations in Scotland this year have been as follows: the Second Reading of the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, the Second Reading of the non-controversial Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, and no fewer than 24 resolutions "That the Committee do now adjourn"? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the time has come to adjourn that token Committee once and for all, and to allow the people of Scotland to elect their own Parliament to control their own affairs?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Scottish Grand Committee has been an enormous success and has greatly improved accountability. Many positive decisions relating to areas throughout Scotland have issued from it. It has been responsive to representations from local communities. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that his party's proposals for a Scottish Parliament would cost no less than £36 million in capital costs and well over £40 million a year in running costs. The running costs of the Scottish Grand Committee are negligible in comparison, and I believe that it performs a great service to the nation.

Sir Hector Monro: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite what Opposition Members say, the movement of the Grand Committee around Scotland has been a great success? Cannot the Committee do almost everything that a Scottish Parliament could do--except raise the tartan tax? Does he agree that we should continue the policy this year? Perhaps we could end up with another great event in Dumfries this year--even if we do not have Robert Burns to celebrate in 1997.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the fact that the Scottish Grand Committee met successfully in Dumfries--it was

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the first time that a Prime Minister had ever addressed the Committee. So successful was the experiment that it is now to be extended to Northern Ireland, and Wales is following our example. That is wholly admirable.

The tartan tax would be an appalling infliction and would probably mean that the average individual in Scotland would pay £6 a week extra in taxes, which would damage jobs and services.

Mr. Welsh: Apart from the extra cost of making some hon. Members travel more, how much has the travelling circus cost? What has been the impact of the Grand Committee on the Scottish Office, given that the Committee cannot make any decisions about anything?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he and his colleagues have no influence, he is incorrect--as long as they are doing their jobs properly. Hon. Members who operate effectively and use the parliamentary machinery available to them can have great influence on behalf of their constituents. The costs of running the Grand Committee are negligible in comparison to the cost of a Scottish Parliament, and the people of Scotland will keep that in mind.

Mr. Davidson: But what has the Scottish Grand Committee actually done?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: It has met on a great many occasions. [Laughter.] What is more, it has listened to many representations--some of them from the hon. Gentleman who, if I remember correctly, argued for stronger action to be taken by the Law Officers against drug dealers and vandals in his constituency. We were glad to respond to the problems in his area.

Government of Scotland

9. Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received on the government of Scotland. [38712]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: I have had lots of representations on the government of Scotland, and in particular about the adverse effect of a tartan tax that would hit the work force and pensioners in Scotland harder than those in other parts of the UK.

Mr. Duncan Smith: If a Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers were created, would not my constituents in Chingford be right to question the funding arrangements whereby the United Kingdom Government would spend more per head in Scotland than in England? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would lead directly to a schism between England and Scotland, and thereby to exactly what the Scottish National party wants--a separate England and a separate Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that Labour's unstable proposal would lead to conflict between Westminster and the Edinburgh Parliament and that funding would certainly become an issue. The supporters of this policy include the Liberal Democrats, who have argued for a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament and the loss of the office of

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Secretary of State for Scotland, which would diminish Scotland's voice in this House, where the funding of Scotland's vital services is determined. That in turn would put those services at risk, and is a recipe for corrosive acrimony and discord.

My hon. Friend is right to say that that move would play straight into the hands of members of the Scottish National party, who seek the break-up of the United Kingdom. I hope, therefore, that Opposition Members who realise that will ask those Labour Members who adhere to the scheme to think again.

Mr. McAllion: In a recent speech, the Secretary of State denounced nationalism as "patriotism gone to seed", among other things. Will he denounce that form of British nationalism that wraps itself in the Union flag, indulges in blatant anti-European sentiment and displays not so much love of our country as loathing of the countries of other Europeans? If not, can we conclude that he is a secret supporter of that ugly face of British nationalism that is associated with the Euro-sceptics in his party?

Mr. Forsyth: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is reading my speeches. He will have seen that, in the same speech, I described patriotism as being based on love of one's own country, not hatred of other people's. The hon. Gentleman can take my words for what they are. He has sometimes had difficulty deciding whether he is a nationalist or a socialist.

Mr. McAllion: Both.

Mr. Forsyth: I will not link both because that might get me into some trouble. In that speech, I was drawing attention to the failure of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to condemn a recruiting leaflet produced by young Scottish nationalists which denounced English people in filthy and abusive terms. He has refused, and he has the opportunity to do so this afternoon.

Mr. Charles Kennedy: On the question of Scottish governance, and given the Secretary of State's announcement last week of the inaugural meeting of the highlands and islands convention, could I indicate to the Secretary of State on behalf of my hon. Friends in the area that we look forward to participating in that meeting? I must also place it on record that we will at the outset raise the question of the convention deciding for itself who should act as the chair and of it having ownership of its agenda. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is absurd to have a consultative body to the Executive that in itself will be chaired and driven by the person in charge of the Executive?

Mr. Forsyth: If the hon. Gentleman takes that attitude, it will not work. We have tried to set up a body made up half of elected members and half from other bodies. The purpose is to come together with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the highlands and me to discuss issues that we can approach on a cross-party basis. It is meant to be not an Executive, but a consultative, body. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be in the chair, he must win the next election.

The convention is not set up as some sort of Executive body. It is there to try to find common ground and ensure that those people, both elected and unelected, in the

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highlands have an input. The hon. Gentleman's ambitions go beyond that. I hope that he will adopt a co-operative attitude. Many people in the highlands would welcome that. I appreciate that he would rather have something else, but that is not something that I am in a position to deliver and it would not be the right thing to do.

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective and efficient mechanism for a Government with a majority of Scottish Members of Parliament--if they are determined to have a body legislating in Scotland--is to use the Scottish Grand Committee and their majority in it? In such circumstances there is no need to set up other, expensive establishments.

Mr. Forsyth: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In a Scottish Grand Committee under a Labour Government--perish the thought--a majority of members would be of the Government side, otherwise there would not be a Labour Government. That means that the Grand Committee would be able to pass legislation, hold the Executive to account and do everything and more that a Scottish Parliament could do. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State pointed out earlier, the only thing that it could not do is raise the tartan tax. Too many people are keen to pay extra tax in Scotland compared with England.

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