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Mr. Wallace: Some form of concordat is undoubtedly necessary to ensure that there is smooth running and a good working relationship between Whitehall and the Scottish Parliament. The new clause highlights ways in which some aspects of the concordats could be more thoroughly rooted, rather than being mere gentlemen's and gentleladies' agreements.

The new clause picks up on amendments tabled in Committee that did not find favour with the Government. The House will recall that we tabled amendments that would have formalised what the block grant should be, and anything that gives us a chance to debate the financial arrangements is probably better than the vagueness in the Bill.

5.45 pm

We were disappointed that the Government did not accept an amendment that would have given the Scottish Parliament rights to representation at discussions in the various European institutions and left the matter on the basis of good will. In so far as the new clause is designed to formalise such an arrangement, it is to be welcomed. Will the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) confirm that the new clause refers to general procedures and would not require the House and the Scottish Parliament to rush through a debate to give a stamp of approval every time there was to be a delegation to the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Ancram: The new clause refers to


as well as concordats relating to


    "the implementation of the provisions of Parts 3 and 4".

That covers the economic provisions, and it is not so much procedure as implementation that is important.

Mr. Wallace: The right hon. Gentleman confirms that the procedures would not impose a cumbersome duty, and that is welcome.

Dr. Godman: The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney) warned against Members of the Scottish Parliament being stitched up by Whitehall, but is not there a danger of their being stitched up by Westminster? Surely it would be better for concordats to be agreed by representatives of the Government and of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Wallace: It is intended that both institutions should have an opportunity--Whitehall through the House, and the Scottish Executive through the Scottish Parliament--to give consent. I take some comfort from the guidance note that states:

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    "Concordats cannot come into operation until the devolved administrations are operational. Drafts of concordats cannot be put forward for signature until after the Elections in 1999; and agreements reached now cannot be imposed on the devolved administrations."

That is an important point of principle, subject to the one caveat that, as we all know, he or she who pens the first draft usually manages to influence the way in which matters develop.

It will be incumbent on the Scottish Executive, whatever its complexion, to be strong-minded and examine all the concordats critically. I am sure that the vast majority will be acceptable, but I hope that the Executive and, ultimately, the Parliament, will have the will to insist on changes if it is felt that the best interests of Scotland are being compromised through an agreement that has already been struck.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I am delighted to find myself agreeing, on this occasion, with the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney).

We have had much discussion about concordats during our debates on the Bill. Let me pick up what was said by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I am sure that the Minister will accept that concordats came into being to regulate disputes and areas of possible conflict between Departments subject to single Cabinet responsibility. Officials could reach agreements, and the Ministers in charge of them could either carry the can, or smooth out disagreements at the appropriate level.

That has not always worked. I remember being involved in a case in which it was clear that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and its Scottish Office equivalent were at loggerheads. A Scottish trawler man was prosecuted in Grimsby, and it was advanced in his defence that he had been told that something authorised by the Department in Scotland had not been authorised by London. He was given an absolute discharge, having, as I recollect, proved his case. In that instance, a concordat had not operated successfully.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that concordats will be applied to a completely new situation and set of rules. We are, however, in an extraordinary position. The Government have introduced legislation which, on the one hand, emphasises such things as the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament in the areas devolved to it, and, on the other hand, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of concordats, appears blithely to assume that everything will go on as before. It is clear that it cannot.

The hon. Member for North Tayside was right to say that, when the Scottish Parliament is up and running, nothing could be better calculated to sour the relationship between it and this Parliament--which we, as Conservatives, want to operate as smoothly as possible--than concordats that appear to be behind-the-door stitch-ups by a common civil service. I have grave doubts about whether the common civil service can survive the passage of the Bill, but the underlying assumption about the operation of the concordats is that it will.

I welcome new clause 12, and hope that the Government will consider it seriously. Here, for once, is a point on which all Opposition parties appear to be united. There is considerable merit and force in the new clause. Unless the operation of the agreements is seen to be transparent--and that can happen only if they are

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brought before the Scottish Parliament and the House for approval--there will be a fertile area for conspiracy theorists. I must say that, in some contexts, I am beginning to think that the conspiracy theorists may have a point.

The Achilles' heel of the Government's proposals is the idea--which may have been born of the notion that the same party would be in power in both Edinburgh and Westminster--that day-to-day government could be smoothly conducted through back-door agreements. That simply will not be possible, and we shall therefore have to live with the consequences of devolution. Agreements must be transparent, negotiated and argued about, and the best way in which to do that is to submit them for approval by both Houses.

I welcome the new clause, and commend it to the House. I believe that it will have to be considerably widened, as there is no room for concordats in a framework of devolved government--all decisions will have to be made and approved by both Houses--but, leaving that to one side, the new clause is a step in the right direction, and is the only step that we can take, given that our previous criticisms have been rejected.

Mr. McLeish: The proposals for the concordats appeared at paragraph 4.13 of the White Paper. We are talking about a good communications system between the Scottish Executive and its Departments and the United Kingdom Government. We want mutual understanding, and an appropriate exchange of information. We want advance notification, and joint working. That is simply about agreements. There is nothing sensational about having an agreement between the Parliaments on serious issues. Against that background--unfortunately, given the spirit in which the new clause was tabled--we must reject new clause 12.

The new clause develops the theme introduced in Committee by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who wanted all concordats to be approved by both Houses of Parliament, and to be logged in a public register. Now he wants certain concordats--relating to Europe and finance--to be approved by the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons. I can see that that represents a more balanced approach, but we cannot agree to the new clause.

As I explained in Committee, the purpose of the proposed concordats is not to cover matters that should more properly be dealt with by legislation. There is no hidden agenda. We have published guidance for Departments explaining what concordats are intendedto achieve, which is the promotion of effective communications, and joint working between the Scottish Executive and UK Departments. Among other things, the guidance makes it clear that the proposed concordats cannot come into force--and this touches on the point made by the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Swinney)--until the Scottish Executive has been established, and is in a position to agree to them.

It is right that work on drafting such agreements should begin during the run-up to devolution, but there is no question of the Scottish Executive's being presented with a fait accompli. Guidance also makes it clear that the concordats are not intended to be legally binding, or to

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create legal duties or liabilities for either party. I can give a categorical assurance that there will be no Whitehall fix. The concordats will not come into operation until the Scottish Executive and, of course, the UK Government have approved them.

Mr. Dalyell: What bothers us is what will happen if there is no such understanding. Assuredly, sooner or later, there will be none, because there will be arguments about money. There will be tremendous pressure on the Scottish Executive and the Members of the Holyrood Parliament to secure more money for projects for education, health and housing, and for everything else that has been promised. I fear that talk about mutual understanding, which I agree is highly desirable, is whistling in the wind.


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