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Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1007

UK Parliaments and Assemblies: Cost

2.47 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the total cost to the taxpayer in the current financial year of the parliaments and assemblies in the United Kingdom; and how this compares with the cost for the last financial year.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the total cost to the taxpayer in the current financial year of the House of Commons is £246 million compared to £263.7 million in the last financial year. For the House of Lords, the figure is £50 million this year compared to £45.3 million last year. The costs of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly are a devolved matter and are funded from within the budgets of the devolved administrations.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, if I may put it this way, I thank the noble Lord for escaping answering the point about the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Given the obvious cost of creating more and more elected assemblies, can the noble Lord say whether there is any moment at which the Government might pause and think again about their commitment to nine directly-elected regional assemblies in England? Is he aware of any enthusiasm for that idea, other than perhaps in the North West and the North East? Surely this is a time for reflection and for considering whether it is really wise to go ahead.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is an interesting departure, at a tangent, from the original Question. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, will no doubt be aware that in the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he was allocating another £500 million to the regional development agencies. Very considerable expenditure is being devolved to the regions of England. Therefore, the case for local democratic control of that expenditure has some significance.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, given the fact that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly were created by this Parliament and bearing in mind their importance to the whole United Kingdom political process, as well as to Scotland and Wales respectively, would it not be better if there were an effective way of those parliaments reporting to the Parliament that created them so that we can have meaningful debates both in this House and in the other place about their effectiveness?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is right that the administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland report to their own elected

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assemblies. What notice Parliament in Westminster takes of them is a matter for Parliament. I have not heard any specific demand for a change in our arrangements.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we cannot half-devolve? We either devolve power or we do not. If we have devolved power, particularly to the Scottish Parliament, it is for the Scottish Parliament to take decisions and for the Scottish electorate to judge them. It is not for this House and this Parliament.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for confirming the view that I took in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, leading on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, does not the money that goes to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly come from the Barnett formula? If so, it is of some interest to this House and the other place. Can the Minister confirm that the Barnett formula will continue to be used so that the Scottish Parliament, with its new building and so forth, which is very expensive, can be funded? Will he assure us that he will not take the advice of Mr Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats who want to scrap the Barnett formula?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is not only Mr Charles Kennedy who wants to scrap the Barnett formula; it is also my noble friend Lord Barnett. But the Government have no plans to depart from the Barnett formula.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, perhaps I should make it clear to my noble friend, as I know he is aware, that I am in favour of scrapping the Barnett formula. It gives disproportionate amounts to certain parts of the country. Parts of the North West and the North East should receive more and Scotland should receive less. But if my noble friend and the Government wish to keep a formula called the "Barnett" formula, I do not object. It could be a Mark II.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is already a Mark II and effectively renews himself from time to time. The Barnett formula has a crude justice. It is based on population. The distribution of revenues to the regions of England is a matter for the Westminster Parliament.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, since the Barnett formula is based on increasing in Scotland the same proportion of expenditure as is increased in England, will account be taken of the increased costs of Parliament at Westminster, both the other place and this House, in so far as they relate to England, in calculating what will be allowed in the Barnett formula for the cost of the Scots Parliament? In other words, will the Barnett formula be consistent when it comes to

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the cost of the Scots Parliament? The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, looks a bit dazed at that suggestion. I am dazed myself, but it seems only fair.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the question of the noble Baroness contains a complex piece of thinking which I do not entirely follow. The Barnett formula is based on population. What happens to the money allocated to Scotland within the Barnett formula, including the cost of the Scottish Parliament, is entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament? As to the costs of Parliament at Westminster, the figures I gave show that the cost of the House of Commons is actually lower this year than last, in contrast with the House of Lords, which is higher.

UK Diplomats Overseas: Security

2.53 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the assassination of Brigadier Saunders, Defence Attache in Athens, they will conduct a world-wide security review for overseas United Kingdom diplomats.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the safety of staff is our prime concern. A thorough review of the terrorist threat to all our missions overseas was conducted last year. A programme of increased protective measures is being undertaken where those are considered necessary.

We are thoroughly examining the events surrounding the murder of Brigadier Saunders. We shall ensure that any lessons learnt are reflected in our application of security measures in Athens and more widely. I am unable to give details without affecting the security of staff overseas.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. While effective diplomacy does carry risks, and with the fortress approach not being an option, how can United Kingdom diplomats avoid being a soft target in an era of international terrorism and given that the Americans have battened down the hatches? More specifically, as the murder was Kosovo driven, will the Minister ensure that front-line diplomats are suitably protected from contentious policy issues?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, perhaps I can say straight away that it is of the utmost importance to Her Majesty's Government, as it has been important to every government before us, to secure the well-being of our diplomats who serve us so bravely abroad. Secondly, this wicked murder demonstrates the real service that our diplomats give to this country and the risks in which they place themselves on a daily basis. Regrettably, that is all too rarely acknowledged.

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However, in line with that we have undertaken the most rigorous reviews. There was a review as a result of the Dar es Salaam incident in 1998 when a matrix was developed to try to identify those missions which may be at most risk of collateral damage. That informed our policy. We have made sure that those issues continue to be examined and we shall spend sufficient money to ensure that they are addressed. This Government have made a large commitment--an additional £22 million--to the security of our people and every penny is well spent.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the Minister believe that the measures taken by the host countries in many cases are sufficient to protect diplomats?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we ascertain what measures are in place. That is a factor which is played into our security assessment so that when deciding the level of protection a specific post should have, we are conscious of the security protection provided by the host community. We also look at the mission's proximity to other missions which may also be subject to threat to enable us to make an assessment of the risk of any collateral damage to our mission. It is therefore a matter of which we are very much aware. We take it extremely seriously and try to factor it into our thinking as well as we can.

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