Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-85)


29 JANUARY 2008

  Q80  Mr Tyrie: Your answer to the question that you were posed in that TV interview was that the UK Parliament made that decision. If the UK Parliament comes to some other decision at some subsequent time on this issue this must mean that you will be prepared to accept that, does it not?

  Des Browne: We are into the area of speculation now. I do not anticipate—I used this word in the media over the weekend and everybody interpreted it as meaning "expect" but it does not mean that—that change because I think that people will come to the conclusion I have come to when they start to look at this in detail. The legislative process here, the complexity of the United Kingdom, the effect decisions that are made by the UK Parliament have on the people of Scotland and to some degree vice versa does not lend itself to those clean cut lines and we will end up with a degree of asymmetry. I think this Parliament consistently will come to the view that the asymmetry that we have at the moment is preferable to the mess that we would get into. I also fundamentally believe that if you generate an English Parliament inside the UK Parliament then you would need to do that in the confident knowledge that eventually that would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

  Q81  Mr Tyrie: What about the Barnett Formula? Do you think that the Barnett Formula is sustainable indefinitely?

  Des Browne: The Barnett Formula has not existed forever. It is a temporal measure like most measures are so it goes back about 30 years or thereabouts to 1978. I think it has served us well in those years. I think it has been transparent. People understand it. It lends itself to an incremental increase in a proportionate fashion. I think it is for those people who think we should change it to come up with an alternative.

  Q82  Chairman: They certainly understand it in the north of England where it gives Scotland a lot more money than we get.

  Des Browne: You get into very interesting debates about what is public spending. If you only look at it in certain areas and compare it in certain areas then there is an apparent unfairness. How do you take into account the size of Scotland and its spread of population and the fact that a lot of people live on islands? I say a lot of people, but it is a fact that small numbers of people live in these remote communities and generate a level of expense. That is another debate. The Barnett Formula itself has served us well and is a transparent way of dividing up increases in public spending.

  Q83  Mr Tyrie: And what is your message to the English on the Barnett Formula, your message to the Chairman's constituents as to why they are getting less than just across the border where there is not some huge disparity in density of population, which is what you were referring to a moment ago?

  Des Browne: I do not know the Chairman's constituency well enough to know about the spread of population. I know Scotland really well.

  Q84  Chairman: It is the most thinly populated in England.

  Des Browne: As a comparative measure, I suspect that even the Chairman is not arguing that to live in the Shetland Islands is the equivalent of living in his constituency.

  Q85  Mr Tyrie: What is your answer to my question? What response do you give to the English people?

  Des Browne: We have seen significant increases in public spending in every part of the United Kingdom and all of our communities have benefited greatly from them and that is as a result of the economic stability that this Government has generated and they should be thankful they have a Labour Government.

  Chairman: On that more partisan note than the rest of the contribution we thank you very much.

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