Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witness (Questions 100 - 119)

WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY 1999

MRS RAY MICHIE, MP

  100.  But a specific question, and, again, if you can give a brief answer, because I know a number of my colleagues want to come in, Andrew Stunell, in particular, as a member of your Party. Different legislatures are to have different powers, under the devolutions to Northern Ireland, Wales and to Scotland; the arrangements at Westminster, for instance, for Welsh business, may be very different from those for business relating to Scotland. Do you believe that there are any general principles that this House of Commons can apply in considering the general procedural effects of devolution and its impact upon this House?
  (Mrs Michie)  I think the general principle, and I presume this applies to Wales, although I understand that in their Act the terms "devolved matters" or "reserved matters" are not there, I would imagine so that a general principle is that this House will not try to interfere with what are perceived to be devolved matters, for example, to Wales, or, indeed, Northern Ireland, and that they certainly would not do that as far as Scotland is concerned.

  101.  Are you going to give any very quick response to the West Lothian question; you mentioned it in your opening statement?
  (Mrs Michie)  I maintain that it will not really be resolved unless you have an English Grand Committee with voting rights. And, if I could just add, it has always been our contention that there should be a reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament here; however, that will be very difficult to implement, now that the Government has said that any reduction here will have to see a similar reduction of MSPs, Scottish Members of Parliament, in Scotland. That, I believe, is a recipe for total conflict. We have only got 129 MPs, if they tried to reduce them, according to the numbers that were reduced at Westminster, I think that would not be good and, as I say, would be a recipe for conflict, apart from the fact that we are supposed to have strong pre-legislative committees, and we have only got 129 MPs, and we have got to have the people there to man all these committees and leave a few backbenchers around.

Chairman:  There are some very large countries in this world who have rather fewer Members of Parliament, but perhaps it is what we have got used to. Andrew Stunell.

Mr Stunell

  102.  Yes, well, it is very encouraging to have such a robust, whole gospel put to us, in such a direct way, but I think it is only fair to say that this Committee, when it has been looking at evidence so far, has thought that perhaps it should go a little bit more slowly with the destruction of the Grand Committee set-up. You have mentioned yourself the 22 powers which are reserved——
  (Mrs Michie)  Twenty-two pages of powers.

  103.  Twenty-two pages of powers, yes, thank you. Clearly, Scottish Members of Parliament would want to ask questions of the appropriate part of Government about their exercise of those 22 pages in relation to Scotland; would not they need, therefore, to retain a Question Time to the Secretary of State, who is exercising those 22 pages?
  (Mrs Michie)  But I do not think he is. I presume that the other Secretaries of State, the UK Secretaries of State, for example, those in foreign affairs, defence, social security, Child Support Agency, these sorts of matters are all reserved powers, and I would have thought that the appropriate Minister would be answering them, and one could put a question to him about what the CSA, or whatever he was answering for, was going to do, and how they thought it would affect Scotland.

Mr Efford

  104.  So Scottish MPs would take their chance with each relevant Minister at Question Time as to whether they got a question in regarding Scottish matters, rather than have a specific Question Time?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes, absolutely.

Mr Drew

  105.  I am sorry to miss the very start, but I have just got to get my mind around this. From what we understood, and I may have got this completely wrong, in terms of the previous givers of evidence, who, obviously, were representing "their views" on the Welsh Assembly; they were looking, if you like, we have got a continuum of informal to formal, they were looking very much to working up slowly from the informal ways in which the two Parliaments, in this case, are going to work. You seem to be saying much more in terms of there needs to be quite a formal relationship, and MPs are going to have to tread quite carefully, that they do not, if you like, infringe the powers of the Scottish Parliament. That means that, in a sense, I am getting the view, and my colleagues tell me if this could be wrong, that Welsh MPs will have much more flexibility in the way in which they could carry on their duties compared with Scottish MPs. Now that is going to be quite difficult—we are simple people here, or I certainly am—on how the people question is evolving, or is being outlined, and tell me if I have got it wrong, but you want quite a formal relationship, and, if Scottish MPs start looking and asking questions and interfering with the Scottish Parliament, you are going to slap them down very quickly and say "That's not your responsibility"; now is that true?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes; not me, or us, but, presumably, the Minister will say "That is not my responsibility." And I appreciate that there will be difficulties, because he will wonder if it is his responsibility for a little while, but I see that the difficulty will be more for him, probably, than for Scottish MPs.

Chairman

  106.  So you anticipate that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Ministers in the UK Parliament are going to have a pretty hard time?
  (Mrs Michie)  From Scottish MPs?

  107.  From the Scottish Parliament, and SMPs, as they are going to be called?
  (Mrs Michie)  No, not at all. I see no reason why that should happen, as long as it is clearly understood, the powers that have been given to the Scottish Parliament and the powers that are reserved to Westminster.

  108.  But it is going to be, certainly, initially, perhaps, quite difficult to, as it were, decide where the divide lies.
  (Mrs Michie)  I think that is probably right.

  109.  And, also, when I say a difficult time for the Scottish Secretary of State and his Ministers, or her Ministers, of course, also, for Scottish Members of Parliament in the UK Parliament, because they will clearly be receiving representations on all the subjects that they are currently receiving representations on, and it could well be, as we said to our previous witnesses, that the electorate, constituents, will seek to write to both, in order to make an impression, and that one will be treading on the toes of the other?
  (Mrs Michie)  Indeed, I think that is right, and I think that will probably happen throughout Scotland, to begin with, but I do think we have to try to go through some sort of education process, in Scotland, where we try to make it clear that the MSPs will be dealing with these subjects and that the Members of the Westminster Parliament will be dealing with other subjects. But can I just ask you one thing that I did not understand. You said that the Secretary of State and his Ministers.

  110.  His, or her, Ministers, yes?
  (Mrs Michie)  But what Ministers; he will have no Ministers here.

  111.  Well, that is interesting. I wanted you to say this.
  (Mrs Michie)  As far as I am aware, he will have no Ministers here.

Chairman:  So he will deal, or she will deal, as Secretary of State, with everything. Lorna.

Lorna Fitzsimons

  112.  We are running on a deadline and some of the rest of us have questions relating to some of the bits that have just gone, which was, in terms of, this is the most drastic form of constitutional change we have had this century, if not for a lot longer, therefore, although the best brains, both in parliamentary terms, legal terms and constitutional terms, have been exacted to do it as precisely as possible, the reality is, with such a drastic change, in terms of where legislation, there are going to be, obviously, points that we can all learn, in terms of the way it implements, the way Members feel as though they are able to fulfil their functions, both as newly-elected SMPs and also the remaining Scottish MPs. Now one of the things, I just want to make it clear that you are aware, as an experienced Member of Parliament, what a lottery it is getting a question tabled, and, therefore, you are quite happy that Scottish Members of Parliament, representing the interests of not only their constituents but Scotland in terms of the interface with the United Kingdom Parliament, will actually pit themselves in that general lottery against English and Welsh MPs and might not be able to question Ministers, because there would be no Scottish Questions? Have you discussed this at all at the Scottish Grand Committee, has it been pursued at all?
  (Mrs Michie)  No.

  113.  Do you have any concerns about it?
  (Mrs Michie)  No, because, in fact, it is a lottery at the moment as to whether you get a question down for the Secretary of State for Scotland; Scottish Questions in a fortnight's time, I am number 43, or something.

  114.  But, with respect, there is a Scottish Questions to actually get some reference point about Scotland on the agenda, so there would have been 43 questions on Scotland; there is a chance that, with what you are saying, and I am declaring no interest either way, but what you are saying you propose, that you are quite happy that there could be, because of the lottery of the way questions are done, no questions at all, to any Minister, selected on Scotland?
  (Mrs Michie)  I do not see how else it could be done, because I do not think the Secretary of State, here, could answer questions on these reserved matters, necessarily. If you were to ask him questions about social security, or the Child Support Agency, or something, I do not see that he would necessarily be able to answer that.

Chairman

  115.  Foreign affairs, defence?
  (Mrs Michie)  I would prefer the Scottish MPs to be asking the Secretary of State for Defence.

  116.  Not the Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster?
  (Mrs Michie)  The Scottish Members of Parliament in Westminster would ask about foreign affairs and defence to the relevant Minister and the relevant Department.

Mr Efford:  But then, in terms of verbal questions, they would have to enter into a lottery, there would be no focus, no opportunity——

Chairman:  Specific Scottish questions.

Mr Efford

  117.  Specific, for Scottish Members of Parliament to raise issues relating to Scotland?
  (Mrs Michie)  Yes.

  118.  And I just want you to elaborate a little bit more, because you have said yourself there are 22 pages of reserved powers, and there seems a lack of logic in the statement then that, therefore, the Secretary of State will not be able to answer questions on those reserved powers, if asked the question by a Scottish Member of Parliament. I do not see that that can possibly be the case?
  (Mrs Michie)  I just do not see how a Secretary of State for Scotland could cover all these reserved powers, if we were to ask him questions about foreign affairs, about the CSA, about abortion, for example.

  119.  The question is about the level at which those questions are asked, and those reserved powers are at executive level, if you like, within the legislation, and questions would have to relate to the powers which the Secretary of State holds, not to specific issues that relate to an area within Scotland; so I am not clear how you are making the assumption that the Secretary of State could not deal with those issues?
  (Mrs Michie)  He does not hold these reserved powers, he is a person; it is Westminster Parliament that holds these powers.

Mr Efford:  You could make that statement about any Minister.


 
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