Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
MP, MR GEORGE
FOULKES, MP, DR
QC, MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
40. I asked it yesterday so I may as well ask
it again. Now that the Scottish Parliament has been in existence
for over two years, do you believe that 129 MSPs is the right
number to carry out the work of the Parliament effectively?
(Mrs Liddell) As you know, Mr Robertson, I announced
yesterday that we would consult on this. Indeed, if you look over
the debates that were held at the time of the Scotland Act's passage
both through this House and the other place, it was made clear
at that time by my predecessor Dr Reid that we would be pragmatic
in our view as to the size of the Scottish Parliament, bearing
in mind the process of the bedding down of the Parliament and
how it functioned in the first three to four years of its existence.
My view throughout all of this has been that one of the great
achievements of devolution was to broker a broad consensus on
the Scottish Parliament and I think on this issue I should seek
to find a consensus as well. There is no way I can give you an
answer as to whether or not I want 129 or whatever. I am open-minded
as to the consultation, it will be a genuine consultation, and
I think it is appropriate that the Scottish Parliament, and indeed
members of this House, have an opportunity to express their views
on, and that a proper debateand that may mean people disagreeingtakes
41. My feeling is that we are perhaps a bit
early for this consultation. I know you disagree. After two years
of a new Parliament it strikes me as being bit premature in re-looking
at it. Do you not agree that we should be waiting a bit longer
to give it a chance to bed down?
(Mrs Liddell) If you look at the Scotland Act, again
you will see that it is quite explicit in the Scotland Act about
the size of the Scottish Parliament. Given that issues relating
to the size of Scottish representation in this place are live
issues now I felt it was appropriate to begin this process of
consultation because I think it would not be in the best interests
of brokering a sound partnership were we not to listen to the
representations that were being made.
42. How wide-ranging will the consultation be?
(Mrs Liddell) It will be up to whoever wishes to make
representation, members of the public, organisations, Members
of Parliament, whoever wishes to express a view on this will be
43. As part of the process, Secretary of State,
will you consider looking at the experience of other European
countries in relation to devolved government? I know that when
the proposals were first developed there was considerable interest
in what happened elsewhere in Europe and it seems to me it would
be useful to look at other parts of Europe. Is that something
you would consider as part of the consultation exercise?
(Mrs Liddell) As pert of keeping ourselves informed
about best practice in devolution I and my ministerial team take
a close interest in the devolution systems of other countries.
I was in Canada two weeks ago and visited the National Parliament
in Ottawa and had discussions about the functioning of devolution
there. I have been in Italy where they are going down a similar
route to us in relation to devolution. I am due to go to Spain
because there are also very interesting issues emerging not just
about the relationship of the Devolved Administration to the National
Government but also, where you do not have one-size-fits-all devolution,
the relationship of the Devolved Administrations one with one
another. That is a very interesting area that we need to have
more thought and analysis on. As for me proactively going and
seeking solutions or routes from other devolved parliaments to
resolve this issue of 129, I think that would be beyond my position
as the arbiter of the consultation process, however, it would
not be out of order for people to draw to my attention from their
own analysis of other Devolved Administrations their view as to
how best practice could best be taken into account in this consultation
for the future of the Scottish Parliament. Bear in mind that the
next elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2003 will be on the
existing system; this does not become live until 2007.
44. The terms of the Scotland Act require that,
with the exception of Orkney and Shetland (which is a very important
exception, I am sure you will agree) the constituencies for the
Scottish Parliament should be coterminous with those applicable
to Westminster. The ratio of constituency to regional members
in the Scottish Parliament is currently 56:73. Do you see any
need to amend these arrangements?
(Mrs Liddell) Let me say first of all that I have
no plans to seek to change the operation of the voting system
for the Scottish Parliament, but I think you raise a very, very
important point about this issue of co-terminous boundaries of
MSPs' constituencies and MPs' constituencies. There are significant
issues that need to be addressed and they are not easily addressed,
they are quite complex. It is important for us as parliamentarians,
who as constituency members deal daily with these issues, to have
a serious and detailed examination of how a system that did not
have co-terminous boundaries would actually function. I am saying
that in a sense of saying, "Look, we are the people that
deal with the nuts and bolts. We need to get our heads round how
a change in the system would work." I am not saying it would
not work; I am just saying it is time for a grown-up debate about
45. In terms of that problem of coterminosity
would it have been easier if during the passing of the Scotland
Act you had accepted an amendment on the de-coupling of the numbers?
(Mrs Liddell) I do not necessarily agree with that
given that Lord Sewel in the other place made it clear at that
time that we would be pragmatic. The whole issue of de-coupling
at that stage was not backed up by the analysis that I have just
responded to in terms of saying how exactly it will work having
boundaries that are a different size and also taking into account
local government boundaries. You could have a situation where
one Member of Parliament here had three local authorities and
maybe three MSPs. All of us who work on a day-to-day basis know
that that could be quite a complex issue to deal with. I think
that is something that people need to look at. We also need to
take into account that political parties in this country are currently
organised on a Westminster constituency basis. The political parties
will have a view on this because it affects their operation as
well and in a democracy you need properly functioning political
46. Secretary of State, I speak as somebody
who has already got three local authorities in their constituency.
(Mrs Liddell) I am awfully glad I am not in your situation!
47. Secretary of State, two very important members
of your staff are special advisers. Can you give us an outline
of what they do?
(Mrs Liddell) Can I firstly on behalf of my ministerial
colleagues congratulate Mr Joyce on his recent happy event. Managing
to have your family increased by two at one go is quite dramatic
and I would be grateful if you would pass on our good wishes to
Rose. The job of the special advisers is actually a very, very
important one, and it has to be remembered that although much
of the work that I do with Scottish Members is as the Secretary
of State for Scotland, I am a member of the Cabinet and as a member
of the Cabinet I have wide-ranging responsibilities and a wide
range of areas where I need advice, and not all of it is the kind
of advice that can be given to me by career civil servants. One
important role that special advisers promote is to protect the
Civil Service from any charges that they may be seeking to give
me what is, in essence, political advice. Also because we are
a very small ministerial team and we have a country to deal with
of five million people, there are lots of different organisations
that I need to keep in touch with, not just formally as the Secretary
of State for Scotland but also as a Labour politician, for example
with the trade unions and so on, and it would be inappropriate
for career civil servants to do some of these contacts. That is
where I am greatly helped by having one special adviser who has
a particular background in the trade union movement as well as
a wide academic background. Also in relation to the point Mr Robertson
made in looking at my objectives, part of my role is to popularise
and promote the devolution settlement. Some of that has to be
in a political way rather than a straightforward Ministerial way
and I am helped by my other special adviser in doing that. I have
been around the political process since the early 1970s when the
whole system of special advisersor political advisers as
they were called at the timewas introduced. I think it
is a very helpful way forward in ensuring not just that Ministers
have advice that sometimes it would be difficult for a civil servant
to give, but also that Ministers are kept in touch. One of the
hardest things to do as a Minister is to keep in touch because
of the volume of paper, the volume of work that has to be done.
I find it very, very useful to have sensible advice that is rooted
in the communities and institutions of Scotland that it would
be inappropriate for civil servants to speak to me about.
48. Can I run a quote from the Opposition past
you, Secretary of State, which read: "This is no longer a
government; it is purely a propaganda machine. They are drafting
in more civil servants not to do the work of government but to
do their political dirty work for them." That Opposition
was dated prior to 1997. I wonder if your views have changed since?
(Mrs Liddell) I think we have modernised the system
of special advisers. They operate very tightly within a Code of
Conduct and indeed the use of Short money to fund the Opposition
Leader's office is a means of giving political advisers to the
Opposition as well. Indeed, it was a Labour Government that introduced
that system. There has always been a tradition of special advisers
in this Department. Every time the issue of special advisers is
raised in relation to my office, I always remember one special
adviser to Lord Forsyth who was appalled at the prospect of women
being allowed out of the home, and he regarded nursery education
as something that was way beyond the pale and would lead to Armageddon.
Not only is he likely to be appalled by the fact that the New
Deal for Lone Parents has meant that 52 per cent of lone parents,
who are predominantly women, are able to find work, but I suspect
now with a female Secretary of State he probably looks out the
window in the morning to make sure that the milk float is not
drawn by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I think it is important
to bear in mind that special advisers have a significant role
to play and often when people attack them it is based on sour
49. How do you acquire a special adviser? How
do you appoint them?
(Mrs Liddell) By application.
50. Is it open advertisement?
(Mrs Liddell) It has got to be approved. Perhaps Ian
Gordon can take you through what the actual procedures are because
I cannot completely recall what the procedures are.
(Mr Gordon) It is a personal appointment by the Minister
but it can only be made with the approval of the Prime Minister.
So the Minister will put forward names to the Prime Minister for
approval and when the Prime Minister has approved them, then discussions
can take place.
51. How do we acquire the names?
(Mr Gordon) It is a personal appointment by the Minister.
52. So there is no question of advertising?
(Mr Gordon) Different procedures can be observed.
53. Do you advertise?
(Mrs Liddell) I did not advertise because I was appointed,
as you may recall, on 24 January in a completely unexpected manner
and I needed to have special advisers very quickly indeed, and
I knew of people who I felt could give me the kind of advice that
I required and were available to come to me very quickly. They
resigned at the time of the General Election and subsequently
made it plain to me that they would welcome the opportunity to
continue working for me. I was comfortable with their work, in
fact very impressed with their work and wished that to continue.
Indeed, you will find, for example, that Jim Wallace has two special
advisers in the Scottish Executive. There is no way that a Minister
can work with a special adviser that does not have a similar mind
set and vision because the special adviser quite frequently needs
to share the vision of the Minister. I have a very specific vision
of where I want to take the Scotland Office not just as a facilitator
of the devolution settlement but adding value to the government
of Scotland and to the government of the United Kingdom, not least
of which the European setting because major issues about the future
of Europe have to be confronted. And I was very anxious to have
a special adviser experienced in European matters.
54. I do not dispute the sort of profile that
you are outlining. Everybody round this table would have similar
considerations when they appoint their own staff. But do you not
think it would do a great deal for the legitimacy of special advisers
and go a long way to answering some of the criticisms we have
heard here today?
(Mrs Liddell) I think there is transparency in their
appointment. The Minister has to justify to the Prime Minister
why that person has been chosen and they have to submit a CV and
that is gone over in some detail. That appointment cannot be confirmed
until the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary have approved
it. There are procedures and safety nets all along the process.
In my own case speed was of the essence. I needed somebody extremely
quickly, given that I had not had an opportunity to plan in any
sense in advance. In fact, I think it is generally known that
when the Prime Minister was seeking to find me to appoint me nobody
had actually thought to look for me at the Despatch Box which
is where I was at the precise moment when I was becoming Secretary
of State for Scotland.
55. When the devolution settlement was established
it was always envisaged that the Joint Ministerial Committees
would be a very useful way of providing an additional consultation
mechanism between the various devolved administrations and the
UK Government. Can you give us some assessment of your experience
of the committee structure to date?
(Mrs Liddell) At the time devolution was conceived
I think we probably were not aware of how rapidly and how effectively
bilateral relations would develop between Scottish Executive Ministers
and Ministers of the UK Government, and that has been one of the
very successful elements of devolution. Where the Joint Ministerial
Committees come into play is as a forum for best practice, for
discussion, for raising issues. Indeed, there was a Joint Ministerial
Committee in Cardiff just last Tuesday and it was very useful
to share best practice and also in a forum to say the areas where
perhaps things could be done better. Often there are minor aspects
of our day-to-day working that could be improved and that is why
the overall JMC chaired by the Prime Minister is very useful.
There are, of course, specific JMCs on specific issues that allow
the kind of debate and discussion that is not normally able to
be fitted into a very business-like bilateral arrangement. It
is more the apex of the system of bilateral relationships that
is very important. Indeed, that is the way that the work in the
Scotland Office is evolving because we intervene much earlier
than the JMC meeting to help Scottish Executive departments or
help Westminster departments, and we are often a facilitator where
we can lift the phone if we see a difficulty emerging that may
not have been spotted and we can try and ease those difficulties.
The JMC as a sort of clearing house is much more the image of
what is actually happening rather than the template that was set
down at the time of the devolution.
56. How often do both the full JMC and the functional
(Mrs Liddell) I have attended one of the main JMCs
just last week. The functional JMCs met as follows: the JMC on
the Knowledge Economy, February and May 2000; JMC Poverty, December
1999 and May 2000; JMC Health, April 2000, twice in June 2000
and once in October 2000 and once in October 2001. But the real
workmanship is in the bilaterals. It is not just bilaterals with
Scottish Executive Ministers to UK Ministers; it is also bilaterals
between the Devolved Administrations as well.
57. One of the functions covered by a JMC is
the European affairs side of things. My understanding from the
original Memorandum of Understanding was that it was envisaged
that the European Affairs JMC would be where there would be discussion
about the participation by the devolved administrations in the
UK representation at the European Council and other European levels.
Is that function still being carried out by that JMC and, if so,
can you give us an update of the number of occasions that Scottish
Ministers have taken part in the UK delegation?
(Mrs Liddell) Again there is a much more workmanlike
system that has developed. There is a Committee called Minicor,
which are European Ministers from all departments which I have
sat on in all my various guises as a Minister, the Devolved Administrations
sit on Minicor, and it is there that the real "nuts and bolts"
work is done in relation to Europe. Again in relation to the Devolved
Administrations appearing at Councils, that is often done on a
pragmatic basis. There are issues of specific relevance to Scotland
where Scottish Ministers have been the lead Minister in the European
Councils. I do not have the specific number but I will certainly
give the specific number to the Committee. My memory has been
jogged. In relation to the JMC Europe, it has met once before
and indeed it is due to meet very shortly.
58. Perhaps I might make an observation. Bearing
in mind what has been said about the value there has been to the
Secretary of State and Ministers from contact with their counterparts
in Wales and Northern Ireland, maybe that is something this Committee
should think aboutthe ways in which it can learn from the
experience, for example, of the Welsh Affairs Committee. Perhaps
that is something for this Committee. Can I ask the Secretary
of State about another issue arising from the Memorandum of Understanding.
What assessment has been made of the operation of the four over-arching
concordats which were also provided for in the Memorandum of Understanding.
Has there been any assessment of their effectiveness to date?
(Mr Gordon) The very first meeting of the top JMC,
the one the Prime Minister chairs, took place just over a year
ago, and it commissioned a review, in effect, of the system of
Memorandum of Understanding. The Memorandum of Understanding is
underpinned by four multilateral concordats, which are the ones
that you are referring toexchange of statistics, financial
assistance to industry, EU business and international relations.
Those were reviewed throughout the course of last year and a report
was submitted to the JMC. The bilateral concordats between each
individual administration and their counterparts in Whitehall
are constrained within that higher level Memorandum of Understanding.
59. Following the review of the working of the
Memorandum of Understanding, what new advice on devolution matters
and associated best practice has been promulgated?
(Mrs Liddell) In relation to the MOUs, these were
discussed at the JMC last week with the Prime Minister and some
minor textual changes were made. I am not sure when they are going
to be published but I think it is pretty shortly. I will arrange
for the Memorandum to be made available to the Committee. As well
as operating in terms of the Memorandum of Understanding it is
in terms of day-to-day working that we can best share best practice.
It varies between bilateral arrangements between Ministers as
well. Some departments have excellent bilateral relations, some
edged into bilateral relations more slowly than others. Sometimes
it can be a question of the issues, sometimes it can even be issues
of personality. They are now operating extremely well indeed.
I can remember the discussions when I was in the Scottish Office
before devolution and it was envisaged that the MOUs would be
needed much more to resolve conflict. I think it is fair to say,
apart from one or two cases, that has not been the case.