|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Hardie: It has been an interesting debate, with speculation about what might happen to property in the future. However, the Government cannot accept the amendment for two reasons. First, it is unnecessary. The second reason is related to the first. The point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The amendment would restrict the powers which already exist for the Scottish executive to hold property outwith Scotland. Nothing in the Bill prevents Scottish Ministers from holding property outwith Scotland in connection with
The speculation about Dover House is precisely that. After devolution there will undoubtedly be a continuing need for the Scottish executive to have a physical base in London. I do not think that anyone disputes that. It is difficult to predict the intensity of the use, or the precise amount of accommodation, which will be required. We anticipate that after devolution it would be necessary for officials--as well as, on occasions perhaps, members of the executive--to be in London almost as much as at present to maintain close contact with Whitehall departments. Indeed, there may even be an argument that they would be here more often than officials who travel to and from Scotland, to ensure that there is appropriate contact between the Scottish executive and the United Kingdom Government.
It is not possible at this stage to indicate what the precise arrangements will be either in relation to Dover House or Carlton Gardens. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, that although it is likely that officials from the Scottish executive will be in London, and perhaps Scottish Ministers occasionally for the purpose of meetings, it is unlikely that the Lord Advocate would be in London for any significant period. Certainly I would not envisage the Lord Advocate or his department requiring separate accommodation in London.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Out of interest; if, say, the Prime Minister wanted to hire Dover House for a party and it belonged to the Scottish executive, would the rent the Prime Minister paid have to be returned to the Treasury?
If the Government have not thought about the matter can we have an assurance that the Secretary of State will fight to prevent people getting their hands on Dover House before the Scottish government are set up and can take part in any such discussions? Having been involved in government, I believe that it would be considerably to Scotland's disadvantage if officials who might wish to be in London were moved out of Whitehall into less salubrious property. It would simply look as though Scotland were downgraded.
I am amazed to hear that the noble and learned Lord thinks that there will be more officials in London from Scotland after devolution. I thought the whole point of devolution was that there might be fewer officials in London; but one learns something new every day. Given the volatile nature of the Scottish political scene, and just in case Mrs. Helen Liddell is not able to turn the tide of nationalism, is it not sensible that the Secretary of State keeps a grip on Dover House so that if the worst comes to the worst it can be the embassy of Scotland in its nearest and dearest neighbour England?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: The noble and learned Lord responded as regards the property of Dover House. Might we have some assurance on the contents of Dover House? In the room which I believe is presently occupied by the Minister of State--it is quite the grandest room in all of Whitehall--are hung two of the finest Allan Ramsay paintings in the land. In the presence of one of their number, I have to say to the noble and learned Lord, if he does not know, that the trustees of the National Gallery of Scotland are trying to get their thieving hands on those portraits!
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: Reference was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, to the Advocate General for Scotland who has been described as a rather shadowy "third man". However, that suggests that he or she will be an entirely new person exercising what I suspect will be a difficult and sensitive role, which must be seen as being of complete independence, too.
I hope that the Government will bear in mind the need for the Advocate General to be suitably housed. The Government may have in mind that the present premises in Carlton Gardens would go to the Advocate General; or perhaps not. However, the Advocate General should be separately housed, so that he or she can be seen to be acting entirely independently in an important legal
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My noble friend anticipates some of the remarks I shall make. First, I thank the Lord Advocate for confirming that a base can be owned outwith Scotland; and, secondly, that there would and should be such a base in Whitehall. I shall be grateful if he will tell the Committee exactly what present considerations are before the Government with regard to the future of Dover House. There must be considerations. This must be a key issue. I believe that while the Bill is going through Parliament it is an appropriate opportunity for the Lord Advocate to say what those considerations are.
It is an attractive base and has been used by many. Indeed, in days gone by I was asked to move out of my office in order to accommodate Sir Robin Butler when he was moved out of Downing Street during the refurbishment of his rooms. Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein also had the use of those rooms at one time. It would be helpful to know exactly what the proposals are. We would be grateful for confirmation that a fight is being put up in the best interests of Scotland.
Lord Hardie: I shall deal first with the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. As regards accommodation for the Advocate General, no discussions have taken place on that or on the future of Dover House. The Committee will appreciate that we are some way from the date at which the transfer will take place. However, I can assure the noble and learned Lord that the Government will take note of his comments in reaching a decision on an appropriate base for the Advocate General for Scotland.
As regards Dover House, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would fight his corner. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend will look to the interests of Scotland in this issue, as he has done throughout his office. The future of Dover House will be the subject of discussions within government at the appropriate time. When it is possible to make an announcement or to give further information to your Lordships I am sure that that will be done either by me or by one of my noble friends.
Lord Hardie: The transfer of the property is covered by the Bill. The property will transfer to the Scottish executive or it will remain with the British Government, as the case may be. If there is a transfer to the Scottish executive it will belong to the Scottish executive.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page