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Scottish Parliament Building

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, there has been no such approach.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that not entirely unsurprising reply. Does the noble Baroness accept that the decision to build the Scots Parliament at a cost of £50 million was made by the Westminster Government before devolution was implemented and that, therefore, members of the Scots Parliament had no part in it? Does the Minister accept that that £50 million was only for the shell of the building? It did not include purchasing the site, demolition work, furniture, fittings, fees nor reasonable changes to the specification. The total cost is now between £120 million and £200 million.

In view of that massive error, will the Government ensure that the extra sum required, at any rate for the original project, will be added to the Scots Parliament's allocation from the Treasury; or will the Scots alone have to fund it out of the tartan tax or by cutting expenditure on hospitals and schools?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, there is so much confusion and misinformation in that question that I do not quite know where to begin. Perhaps I may deal with some facts. The initial estimate of the construction cost was £50 million, excluding site acquisition, VAT, fees and fittings. That was always made very clear in this House and in another place. Indeed, I have many Hansard references, if the noble Baroness would like to have those.

The construction cost estimate subsequently increased to £62 million. That reflected changes to the original outline specification, including the provision of a formal entrance, increased circulation space and increased staff accommodation. That was all taking into account the work of the consultative steering group, which was an all-party group, on how the parliament should operate.

The legal and financial responsibility for the project passed to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body--the SPCB--on 1st June 1999. In June 1999, the cost of the building was estimated to be £109 million. That figure includes the £62 million construction costs which I mentioned earlier, VAT, fees, site acquisition and works, fitting out and provision of IT. I understand that provision for costs totalling £109 million has been made in spending plans for the Scottish Parliament. Those are the facts.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour did not dispute that it was £50 million plus VAT and a few other things,

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totalling, as I recall, when the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, announced this to your Lordships' House, no more than about £80 million. The figure is now over £230 million for what is now being called "Donald's Dome" because it was Donald Dewar, when Secretary of State, who announced that. Will John Reid, the current holder of the office, fulfil the obligations which his predecessor laid down to fund that? Will he therefore fund it out of his budget and not ask for fewer Scottish policemen or nurses because of the money needed to fund Donald's Dome?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I do not know where all those figures are coming from, other than from the pages of the Scottish press. I am sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in his place today. On Tuesday, during the Report stage of the Representation of the People Bill, he tossed around a figure of £280 million. I am not quite sure whether or not that was the figure used by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I do not know where those figures are coming from.

As I told your Lordships, the last official factual figure is the £109 million. But as everyone is aware who reads the Scottish press and who pays attention to these matters, the Presiding Officer announced to the parliament on 24th February that he had commissioned an assessment to allow the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to give MSPs a complete and detailed report with sufficiently robust information on cost and timetable. He confirmed that the review will be carried out by independent assessors; will assess the current position of the project; and will advise the SPCB ahead of its report to MSPs next month.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, will the Minister agree that the responsibility for a matter like this was very clearly and consciously devolved by this Parliament to the parliament in Edinburgh during the proceedings on the Scotland Act? In those circumstances, would it not be altogether better to leave those responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament responsible to the Scottish electorate without back-seat driving from this Chamber?

Will the Minister further agree that, while ensuring value for money, of course, the parliament building in Edinburgh is being built for posterity, far beyond the horizons of the peevish Scottish press and that we should have a building of which Scotland can be proud?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I could not agree more with every word that the noble Lord said.

Business: Private Notice Questions

3.37 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, with permission of the House, I should like to raise a matter, of which I have given notice, which I believe is of great importance to the rights of this House to be informed.

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There is a clear case of good practice which exists in this House; that is, that when information is offered to Parliament in another place by way of a Statement or a Private Notice Question, that Statement is offered to your Lordships. On 7th December 1999, the Foreign Secretary chose to use a Deferred Question procedure to make an important Statement on Chechnya. When I learnt of that, I asked a PNQ to protect the rights of this House to be informed. That PNQ was refused and I did not dispute the right of the Leader of the House to do that, and the House must respect the decision of the Leader or, indeed, her Deputy.

However, I said on the Floor of the House that that matter needed to be addressed by the Procedure Committee. I warned that we must address the effects of this device being used in another place by Ministers; namely, that Statements made in that way would not then be offered to your Lordships' House.

I subsequently raised the matter in a letter to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but she said that she could not support a reference to the committee. She said that the Deferred Question procedure was,

    "not likely to arise again with any degree of frequency".

On 18th February I wrote again to the noble Baroness to say that I was not satisfied with that as a reason and I repeated that I felt that this House should be protected. As a solution, I said that the House might, perhaps, be offered an arranged PNQ when the Deferred Question procedure was used in another place. As yet, I have received no reply.

But so far from it being an almost unknown occurrence, the Deferred Question has arisen again. This morning, in another place, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry used the Deferred Question procedure to announce major changes to the Utilities Bill.

Quite apart from what it reveals about the shambles that is so much of the Government's legislative programme, that Statement is important. It touches on our major utilities and so it affects every citizen in this country. Once again, the Official Opposition, in the person of my noble friend Lady Buscombe, tabled a PNQ to enable this House to be informed. Once again, the PNQ was refused. I do not dispute the right of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General to refuse a PNQ on this occasion. But I must ask again--this time with some force--whether it would not be a courtesy to this House for Ministers to find some way in which Statements made in another place under the Deferred Question procedure could be offered here. That is not much for Members of this House to ask and to expect. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, will assure the House this afternoon that the matter of how this House is informed by Ministers when Deferred Questions are used to make Statements in another place will be reconsidered sympathetically and with urgency. I formally ask him to do so now.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I apologise for the absence of my noble

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friend the Leader of the House. As I believe is known, she is on official business in the United States. I sympathise with the thrust of what the noble Lord has said. Perhaps I may put it in the immediate context. He is quite right; the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, sought to table a PNQ relating to future regulation of the telecommunications industry. I believe that the noble Lord will concede that the usual test was applied; namely, did it fulfil and meet the criterion of urgency? I do not believe that any rational mind could say that it did.

However, the noble Lord's question goes to a more fundamental point. He is quite right that he wrote on 18th February and he has not received a reply. I agree with him that it is unfortunate that a Deferred Question arose in another place before the correspondence proceeded any further. I believe that through the usual channels we can find a way forward which all your Lordships will find satisfactory. I do not believe that it is for me on this occasion to say anything further, because I know from my noble friend the Chief Whip that he has not had an opportunity, bearing in mind the limited time available today, to discuss matters fully with the usual channels. They are also entitled to have their view considered.

I sympathise with the point made by the noble Lord. It will not be an insoluble problem. Perhaps we may rely again on our faithful, trusty and well-beloved friends: the usual channels.

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