ANNUAL REPORT OF THE SCOTTISH AFFAIRS
Memorandum to the Liaison Committee
1. Devolution has had a major influence on the
nature of the inquiries undertaken by the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Since July 1999 many of the functions of the former Scottish Office
have passed to the Scottish Executive and scrutiny has become
the responsibility of Committees in Edinburgh. In some respects
this has reduced the scope of the Committee's activities. However,
the existence of a Select Committee to monitor Scottish interests
in reserved matters has become even more important. The Committee
is keen to keep a watchful eye on Scottish interests with regard
to reserved matters, and also to establish a good working relationship
with Committees in the Scottish Parliament.
2. The Committee has adapted well to its new
environment, and examples of the importance of joined-up working
are shown below. The UK Government made the decision to reserve
those matters that would benefit the whole of the United Kingdom
by having a "consistent and regulated approach". The
Scottish Affairs Committee is committed to this view, and to ensuring
that the best interests of the people of Scotland are considered
in these important areas.
The Scottish Affairs Committee post-devolution
3. In November 1998 the Committee published a
Report on The Operation of Multi-Layer Democracy.
Evidence was taken from academics, experts in constitutional matters
and representatives of Scottish local administration. In this
Report the Scottish Affairs Committee aimed to consolidate expert
advice and to discuss the ramifications of the new system. The
Report made it clear that, in the view of the Committee, "
... it is in the interest of all people of goodwill to work towards
making the new configuration a success.".
4. Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament
the Scottish Affairs Committee has been careful to confine its
recommendations, where possible, to subjects for which the responsibility
is reserved to the UK Parliament. On occasions, however, it has
been useful for the Committee to request both formal and informal
evidence on devolved issues, in order to gain a full understanding
of all aspects of an inquiry. Evidence has been provided willingly
by Departments of the Scottish Executive. For example, the Committee's
inquiry into Poverty in Scotland
benefited from oral evidence from Wendy Alexander MSP, Minister
for Communities. The Committee also requested background information
from the Scottish Department of Health in advance of the inquiry
into the Drinks Industry in Scotland.
5. In January 2000, members of the Scottish Affairs
Committee visited Glasgow to host an informal meeting with members
of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee
of the Scottish Parliament. During this meeting, members from
both Committees expressed a wish to work together and to swap
information wherever possible. The Committee's inquiry into Poverty
in Scotland provided a classic example of the problem of overlap
between reserved matters (for example, social security benefits,
employment policy, energy pricing) and devolved matters (such
as health, education, careers advice, housing, area regeneration).
There is no formal structure in place for joint meetings between
committees of both Parliaments, therefore it was agreed that if
the Committees wanted to meet, an informal session in a neutral
setting would be the most appropriate way to proceed. To date
the Scottish Affairs Committee has neither requested a further
meeting nor been involved in any request from a Committee from
either Parliament for a meeting. Committee staff do, however,
regularly relay information on the progress of inquiries. In its
recent report on Poverty in Scotland the Committee recommended
that the Procedure Committee should examine the situation with
regard to meetings between Committees of the House and Committees
of the devolved assemblies, with a view to facilitating joint
6. In March 2000 the Committee held an evidence
session with Dr John Reid MP, Secretary of State for Scotland
and Mr Ian Gordon, Head, Scotland Office, on The Work of the Scotland
Office Since Devolution 
. Topics under discussion included the work of the Joint Ministerial
Committee; the relationship between the two Parliaments; and the
representation of the Scottish electorate. This subject may be
revisited by the Committee in the future.
The direction of the Committee's work
7. The 1999-2000 Session illustrates the direction
of the post-devolution Committee, and shows further examples of
the Committee's adaptability.
8. During the 1999-2000 Session the Committee
completed a detailed and extensive inquiry into Poverty in Scotland
and held a one-off evidence session on the work of BBC Scotland.
The Committee returned to the subject of Scotland Since Devolution
and also held an evidence session on the Scotland Office Annual
Report 2000. Finally, the Committee gathered a huge amount of
evidence in advance of the new inquiry into The Drinks Industry
in Scotland, which began towards the end of the 1999-2000 Session
and will continue into 2001.
9. The Committee places great emphasis on visiting
Scotland and does so frequently. It endeavours to talk informally
to as many interested parties as possible connected with an inquiry.
The poverty inquiry could not have been conducted properly within
the confines of the House of Commons. It was necessary to visit
various parts of Scotland and specifically to talk to individuals
and communities affected by poverty who otherwise might not have
been able to contribute to the Committee's work. For example,
as a priority, the Committee met with homeless people at a drop-in
centre in Glasgow. The structure of the programme showed the care
taken by the Committee to gather evidence in as appropriate an
environment as possible for the source of information. Evidence
was heard at formal meetings from established organisations; others
were asked to send their views in writing .
Towards the end of the inquiry the Committee attended an informal
meeting with the Director General of the Office of Gas and Electricity
Markets (OfGem) in order to discuss issues of fuel poverty.
10. The inquiry into Poverty in Scotland illustrated
the main thrust of the Committee's inquiries: to scrutinise areas
of reserved responsibility and to offer realistic and helpful
suggestions to Government Departments in the Committee's final
11. The Scottish Office and its successor, the
Scotland Office have seldom provided the Committee with a Government
Reply within the required two months of publication of the Committee's
Report.  The Scotland
Office maintain that this is because of time spent in liaison
with other Government Departments and waiting for each part of
the reply to be authorised by the appropriate Secretary or Minister
of State. For example, the report on Poverty in Scotland was published
on 19 July. The Government response was received on 4 December.
The Scotland Office Parliamentary and Constitutional Division
increasingly finds that it is required to be an intermediary between
the Committee and other Government Departments, and this can delay
the provision of information to the Committee.
Relations with the Government Department
12. Liaison with the Scotland Office is, in general,
cordial and effective. However, there have been occasions over
the last year when the Scotland Office has neglected to inform
the Committee of important developments. For example, the Committee
was not sent a copy of the Department's Annual Report, nor was
the Committee Clerk informed that it had been published. The Department
does not tend to be proactive in offering information. Without
prompting it is very seldom that Committee staff are provided
with the dates of Scottish Grand Committee meetings or the progress
of a Government reply or memorandum, and on no occasion has the
Committee Clerk received any special notice of either a new initiative
or the Minister's views on a subject. The Scottish Affairs Committee
staff are keen to develop more co-operation with the Department
at an administrative level.
Resource Accounting and Budgeting
13. The Scottish Affairs Committee raised implementation
of Resource Accounting and Budgeting by the Scotland Office during
the oral evidence session in June 2000 on the Scotland Office
Departmental Report 2000 .
The Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, assured
the Committee that the Department was on line to produce resource
estimates and accounts in line with the Government's plans.
Memorandum from the Scotland Office
14. Annexed to this Report is a memorandum from
the Scotland Office
which, with the exception of those contained in the Government
reply to the report into Poverty in Scotland,
provides information on progress on recommendations made by the
Committee in its reports during the current Parliament. This document
was compiled diligently by the Scotland Office in consultation
with other Government Departments and the Scottish Executive.
The Committee is extremely grateful to the Scottish Executive
for the spirit of cooperation demonstrated by their willingness
to participate in this exercise.
Response by the Scottish Executive to the Committee's
report on Poverty in Scotland
15. On 30 November the Secretary of State for
Scotland wrote to the Chairman of the Committee with the Government's
response to the report on Poverty in Scotland. On 21 November
the Minister for Social Justice wrote to the Secretary of State
for Scotland outlining the response by the Scottish Executive
to the same report. The Committee compliments the Scottish Executive
on the constructive nature of their contribution to its inquiry
and the high standard of their response.
Joint meetings between Select Committees and Committees
of the Scottish Parliament
16. There currently exists no easy mechanism
to enable formal joint meetings to take place between committees
of the House of Commons and those of the devolved legislatures.
In its Fourth Report on The Procedural Consequences of Devolution,
the Procedure Committee recommended that: "Committees should
not hold formal meetings in conjunction with Members of
the devolved legislatures without the express authority of the
House, and Members should be aware that there is no guarantee
that their words enjoy the protection of Article IX of the Bill
of Rights in any informal joint meeting."
17. In its report into Poverty in Scotland, the
Scottish Affairs Committee requested that the Procedure Committee
re-examine ways to facilitate appropriate formal joint meetings.
The Government's response to this recommendation indicated that
this was a matter for the House authorities. However, any change
of the sort envisaged would require an amendment to the Standing
Orders of the House and, possibly, to the rules of the Scottish
Parliament. The former would require a motion on the Order Paper
which would originate with a Government Minister, probably the
Leader of the House. Therefore in the view of the Committee, the
matter ultimately does rest with the Government.
18. Under the circumstances the Liaison Committee
might wish to request that the Procedure Committee look further
at the issues involved.
13 December 2000
31 HC 460-I, Session 1997-98. Back
HC 59-I, Session 1999-2000. Back
HC 390-i, Session 1999-2000. Back
Annex 1 shows the extensive number of organisations and individuals
the Committee met in Scotland during the inquiry into Poverty
in Scotland. Back
A table showing dates when Government replies were received is
attached at Annex 2. Back
HC 607-i, Session 1999-2000. Back
Annex 3. Back
HC 55, Session 2000-01. Back
HC 185, Session 1998-99. Back