Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witness (Questions 89 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY 1999

MRS RAY MICHIE, MP

Chairman

  89.  Can I thank you for coming before us, as part of our inquiry into the Procedural Consequences of Devolution. Clearly, Scotland is a very important part of the Union of the United Kingdom, and we feel that you, as a Chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee, could shed some light as to how you feel that devolution, as proposed, will impact upon the United Kingdom Parliament and the relationship between the United Kingdom Parliament and, of course, the new Scottish Parliament. Mrs Michie, the Government has indicated that procedural change here at Westminster, which you are getting to know very well, should, and I quote the Government and the Leader of the House: "evolve in the light of experience and not be made before the devolved assemblies start to work." As a Scottish Member of Parliament, and chairing the Scottish Grand Committee, do you agree with that approach and that view?
  (Mrs Michie)  Can I, first of all, say that I am grateful to you, Mr Chairman, for allowing me——

  90.  And can I say that I have asked the first question, but that will not prevent you from delivering, as I know you would like to do so, an opening statement, but perhaps that gives you an introduction as to how you might like to conduct this?
  (Mrs Michie)  It does, I think, because I do not agree with that statement that you have made, or what the Government has made, but I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to give evidence, and to the Procedure Committee, as someone, yes, who has chaired the Scottish Grand Committee. I am not the only Chairman of that Committee, I have chaired others, but I hope that I am also giving evidence as an ordinary backbencher, if I may, because I do have some ideas of my own. But I agree with the points made by my colleague, Jim Wallace, on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and I think he gave you a submission towards the end of last year. In my view, I think it will no longer be necessary to have, for example, Scottish Questions, reserved matters will be dealt with by UK Ministers, and I do not think it will even be necessary to question the Secretary of State for Scotland, I am not sure what he, or she, will be doing and it has long been our policy that that post should be abolished. I do not see a role for the Scottish Grand Committee or the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, any reserved matters of particular interest to the Scottish Parliament, or which impact on Scotland, would, I believe, be dealt with by departmental Select Committees. And if the Scottish Grand Committee did remain then I do not think it should ever again sit in Scotland, unless by the express invitation of the Scottish Parliament. I am particularly interested, if I may say so, in this West Lothian question, and I am aware of the increasing concern among English MPs, of all parties, that Scottish MPs could still vote on purely English matters. I have considerable sympathy with their point of view, having for years been on the receiving end of English MPs, or other MPs in the United Kingdom, pushing through legislation on purely Scottish matters, such as our separate legal system, our separate education system, in the face of the majority of Scottish MPs, so I very much understand what English MPs may be feeling at this time. Well, of course, this has gone on for nearly 300 years, and it has not started for them yet. The answer may well be, I know, an English Grand Committee, but I really think it would have to have voting rights. I know that Mr Atkinson thought that an English Grand Committee of 500 Members would be difficult to handle, but I cannot see why that would be the case, they would surely meet in the Chamber, and, if it were the Speaker, or the Chairman, I am sure would handle them very well. I can see though that there could be problems for a Government if it had a small majority, but one could argue that that would be democracy. Of course, in the end, as far as I am concerned, the answer is to move towards a federal United Kingdom, with home rule all round, as Gladstone tried to introduce many years ago. I can understand that, in England, they may well want to move to regional government, but I think that that, in the end, is the way the United Kingdom must go.

  91.  Thank you very much. You have made an excellent and, if I may say, very direct and specific opening statement. Do you speak as a Chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee, chairing that Committee, or are you speaking more as a backbencher, and you said you were speaking in various capacities: can I just clarify that with you?
  (Mrs Michie)  I am not representing the Scottish Grand Committee, but I understood that you perhaps wanted some evidence from me, from my experience as a Chair of the Scottish Grand Committee.

  92.  As long as that is absolutely clear?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes; but then, as I did say, I do have, as you heard, perhaps, views of my own, or quite close to my Party, as a backbencher.

Chairman:  Mrs Michie, you have very strong views. Lorna Fitzsimons.

Lorna Fitzsimons

  93.  But also this Committee is asking, as it has to do, the actual institution of the Grand Committee, and we asked the Grand Committee, so could you actually put that representative hat on and actually say what the collective view of the Grand Committee, as currently constituted, is, if it has one?
  (Mrs Michie)  It has not one; as far as I am aware, the Scottish Grand Committee has never discussed the matter.

Chairman

  94.  We are grateful for that. Are you prepared to expand on your, again, very direct, brief response to the question that I opened up with to you, as, you do not, obviously, agree with the Government's approach on this. Are you saying that your approach is very much as you have outlined, and that is that the existing structures of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Scottish Grand Committee should disappear?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes.

  95.  Be withdrawn?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes.

  96.  Cease?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes.

  97.  And that, if there is a Scottish Grand Committee, for perhaps macro debate, that should meet here and not in Edinburgh?
  (Mrs Michie)  That is correct.

  98.  Well, can I put another question to you, seeking to draw you out. Whatever approach to procedural reform is taken, presumably, some forms of change will be more urgent than others, here, in the United Kingdom Parliament, at Westminster; what do you think will need addressing between now and when the actual Parliament in Holyrood begins to operate, what, therefore, needs to be dealt with and addressed by this Committee, on behalf of the House, prior to devolution really getting under way?
  (Mrs Michie)  The elections are on 6 May, the Parliament starts on 1 July, and I think that the important thing to address is the question of Scottish Questions in the House, and I believe that they will no longer be necessary, because I cannot imagine what could be asked of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who no longer has responsibility for all the matters that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

  99.  Can I then ask you the question, what role do you see for the Scottish MP, representative of his, or her, constituency in Scotland, in the Westminster Parliament?
  (Mrs Michie)  They have a considerable role, because if you look at the Act there are about, I think, 22 pages of reserved powers, and so they will constantly have to be looking at that; and the most important thing is that the Barnett Formula, as I understand it, is to continue, that the money for the Scottish Parliament will be coming from Westminster, from here, and they have a role in looking at that sort of thing as well, as well as all these reserved powers.


 
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