Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-260)


26 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q240  Julie Morgan: You would see that as replacing and developing the position played by the Secretary of State for Scotland?

  Bruce Crawford: As I said earlier on, the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, indeed the Scotland Office, we are now almost 10 years on and if we can strengthen the bilateral arrangements we will have a much better co-ordinated and strengthened role at the centre and the need for the Scotland Office is fast disappearing over the horizon.

  Q241  Julie Morgan: At the moment do the ministers in your Government have much contact with the Secretary of State for Scotland?

  Bruce Crawford: The First Minister has the odd contact with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

  Q242  Julie Morgan: Sorry, what did you say?

  Bruce Crawford: The First Minister does have contact with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

  Q243  Julie Morgan: Is that on a regular basis?

  Bruce Crawford: The most recent thing they discussed, and I will talk about when I get the chance as well, if you do not mind, was the Gould Report into the Scottish Parliament elections. We have been arguing, indeed the Scottish Parliament has argued, that executive and legislative competence over the handling of the elections, and it is the unanimous position of the Scottish Parliament, should come to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to deal with. Why have we been arguing for that? Because right now there are about 18 different pieces of legislation affecting Scottish electoral law and there is a plethora of steering groups and other material below that. The Scotland Office is responsible for the Scottish Parliament elections currently, the Scottish Government is responsible for local government elections and, rightly, Ron Gould said there is an incredibly fragmented position and it needs to be resolved and recommended the Scottish Parliament should have responsibility for that. I know that the First Minister and Secretary of State for Scotland discussed that issue. That has not really been taken forward. This is part of my own bag as a Minister, so I have got an interest in it. I think it should have been in terms of the response from the UK Government and it just seems to me so much commonsense, pragmatic positioning. Forgetting all the politics around this, and I know you cannot do that because we are politicians, just to try to resolve that fragmented picture and make sure that the ridiculous situation that arose in Scotland in terms of the management and delivery of the election does not happen again, we need to get on with that work and get it done.

  Q244  Julie Morgan: So you are saying there is deadlock over this issue, or there is no progress?

  Bruce Crawford: The report that came out from the UK Government and its reference to this issue was the central core of a lot of the argument put forward by Ron Gould and it was paid scant attention to and was poorly addressed. I raise that particular point because if the Scotland Office is no longer doing that, and I am saying to you I think there is a strengthened way we can do it in terms of the relationship between the UK and the Scottish Government, that is another reason why the Scotland Office is no longer required. Whether that is part of their argument for not progressing it you would need to ask them, but you might suspect that if you were in my seat.

  Q245  Julie Morgan: You said you have a very good working relationship with David Cairns. How often does the First Minister meet the Secretary of State for Scotland? How many times have they met since you formed a government?

  Bruce Crawford: I am aware of at least a couple of occasions but I would need to make sure of my facts on that.

  Q246  Julie Morgan: Fairly rarely they meet?

  Bruce Crawford: It is not a regular occurrence, but I will make sure you get that information as a follow-up.

  Julie Morgan: Thank you.

  Q247  Chairman: On that particular issue, is there anything to stop you simply having a discussion with the Justice Minister about it? It is your ministerial responsibility and he has a ministerial responsibility for elections. Can you bypass the Secretary of State for Scotland or is there something that stops you from doing so?

  Bruce Crawford: I am glad you raise that point because it makes my point for me in terms of how arcane the process is. The Justice Minister is responsible for elections at the UK level and the European Parliament, the Scotland Office is responsible for elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government is responsible for elections to local government. You can see we have a pretty patchwork approach here and it is pretty clouded in terms of who is doing what. It needs a lot more clarity, certainly in Scotland in terms of the elections to the Scottish Parliament and elections to local government, so that there is one body responsible for this able to deliver an effective election on the night.

  Q248  Chairman: Are you saying that the UK Justice Minister would say, "Sorry, I can't talk to you about this, this is the Secretary of State for Scotland's job"?

  Bruce Crawford: Correct.

  Q249  Chairman: Even though, of course, for some purposes the Scotland Office is part of the Ministry of Justice.

  Bruce Crawford: I will let them justify that area. It looks like a bit of a morass to me.

  Q250  Mr Turner: For the most part, ie England, there is one person responsible, so what are you complaining about?

  Bruce Crawford: Sorry?

  Q251  Mr Turner: There is one minister responsible in England for the whole lot.

  Bruce Crawford: I am complaining that in Scotland there is no one person responsible. There are different bodies of government responsible.

  Q252  Mr Turner: How can it be lower down the line because obviously something has to be at the top for the UK, does it not?

  Bruce Crawford: The Scottish Parliament elections recently, the Scottish Parliament itself?

  Q253  Mr Turner: Yes, but I mean in UK elections.

  Bruce Crawford: Understandably that will have to be done by the Justice Department. I am talking specifically about the Scottish Parliament elections, I am sorry if I was not clear.

  Q254  Mr Turner: Yes. Okay, I understand that. Your submission argued that the "residual functions" of the Scotland Office should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Is that all of these functions?

  Bruce Crawford: In terms of the functions of the Scotland Office there is not a lot left there. Certainly removing the functions of Scottish Parliament, the Elections Executive and legislative competence over them from the Scotland Office and transferring them to the Scottish Government would mean there is not a lot left for the Scotland Office to do. That is what I am arguing. I am not going to put their argument for them, I will let them do that themselves.

  Q255  Mr Turner: What is your view on changes to allow devolution to take place in England?

  Bruce Crawford: There is an interesting debate that is going on in terms of that whole area, is there not, in terms of some of the tensions that are around as reported in the media, but how real they are I sometimes wonder. As far as the process for England is concerned, it is not up to me and the Scottish Government to provide a view about how the people in England decide that they want to have themselves governed, I think that needs to come from the processes that are available through politics and discussion and through Westminster itself about how to deal with the question of how England is governed in the future. I think it would be a bit cheeky of me, actually, to say how I think that could be done.

  Q256  Mrs James: I want to go to intergovernmental relations now. Professor Michael Keating, and I have got quite a long quote here so I apologise for that, said: "devolution is about allowing policy divergence and a healthy competition among governments to innovate and respond to challenges". How accurately do you think this describes the culture of intergovernmental relations between Scottish and UK Governments?

  Bruce Crawford: I think that is a reasonable reflection of where we are. The whole idea of devolution was to allow that divergence, and it might be that the people in Berwick are now demanding that they become part of Scotland because they see such a wonderful government in Scotland providing such goods for them.

  Q257  Chairman: I do not think we will go down that route, at least not on the basis of a dodgy poll!

  Bruce Crawford: As I said to you earlier, I am sure you would make a fantastic member of the Scottish Parliament, Chairman. Sorry, with that divergence in my head could you repeat the last bit of your question?

  Q258  Mrs James: How accurately do you think it reflects what is happening?

  Bruce Crawford: I think it is reflecting reasonably well what is happening. I do have some concerns, I have to say, in terms of some of the more recent soundings coming out, and, again, this is through the media and I cannot say how accurate it is, but no doubt there is some basis for where it starts. This week in the Scottish media we have had comment upon the issue of whether Scotland should have control over planning issues concerning nuclear power stations, for instance, and is it still germane in terms of the Scotland Act that it should be the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government that have that say. Obviously I would say yes, I think it is. If the argument is beginning to move to a direction that says, "In areas where we have got a disagreement with the current Scottish Government then we need to look at where the powers lie", then I have got concerns about the future. I watched a discussion which Gordon Brown had on one of the Scottish political shows a couple of weeks ago when he mentioned animal health being one of the areas where there might be a consideration where that might become an area that could be looked at in terms of a two-way street of powers. It just so happens that this is one of the areas where we did have a bit of a falling out with the UK Government. It would be a pity if every time there was a divergence that ended up as perhaps you should take these ideas back. Whilst I accept the general premise of the gentleman you quote, I think there are danger signs out there, if you understand where I am coming from.

  Q259  Mrs James: We have already heard about Professor Jeffrey's statement that the current framework for intergovernmental relations are not "fit for purpose". How would you respond to that?

  Bruce Crawford: I think the structures can be improved. It has been said that we could strengthen the role, we could share much more bilateral discussion between ministers in Scotland and ministers at the UK level, that could be strengthened, and a stronger co-ordinated role at the centre of Government, whether that is through the Leader of the House for my purpose or otherwise. Obviously being a member of the Scottish National Party in a Scottish Government, we are of the view that independence is a way to sort a lot of these issues out and probably would sort a lot of them out and we would have a much healthier relationship in the future.

  Q260  Chairman: Mr Crawford, thank you very much indeed. It has been most helpful evidence and we are very glad that you have spent the time with us today.

  Bruce Crawford: A pleasure, thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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