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Royal High School, Edinburgh

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 27 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is making arrangements for alternative uses for the Royal High School, Edinburgh, whilst the debate on devolution continues.

Despite that disappointing reply, will the Secretary of State be open-minded enough to consider a suggestion from a Scot living in Sussex to call a conference at the Royal High School, to be held in public, on the whole question of decentralisation of government in the United Kingdom? Would not that give the Scots an opportunity to air their views on two-tier local government and three-tier national government and thus on the prospect of their future administration looking like a five-decker sandwich?

The Scots have expressed their views on these matters on various occasions, as have the Government. Since the Assembly is going ahead, I do not need to consider alternative uses for the High School.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the hold-up in the work on the school arising from the failure of the Bill is due entirely to English Members reneging on their election promises?

Would my right hon. Friend consider it worth while, until the school is properly used for the Scottish Assembly, making space available, since it was a picture gallery before, for pictures of all those Scots who voted against devolution, together with copies of their election addresses highlighting their supposed support for it?

The Secretary of State will remember that he reacted angrily when we last dealt with Scottish Questions to the suggestion that work should be suspended until a decision had been reached on devolution. What has happened since to make him change his mind?

It is an abuse of words to say that work has been suspended when we shall be spending £2 million to bring the Assembly building into readiness.

What is the position of those evicted from the High School, such as the canoe club?

Since all the buildings on Carlton Hill have always been follies, tombs or ruins, does not the Secretary of State feel that he is conforming to tradition by abandoning progress on the High School?

Let me make it clear again that we have not abandoned progress on the building. The work has not been suspended. Considerable work is going on at the moment. If hon. Members care to visit the site, they will see it.


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the progress which is being made on the preparation of the former High School in Edinburgh for the proposed Scottish Assembly; and when the building will be ready for use.

Satisfactory progress is being made. It is expected that work to bring the former High School to the stage indicated in my statement of 7th April will be completed early in 1978.

What will be the total cost of preparing the High School as an Assembly? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is prudent for the Government to continue without specific authority from the House in the preparation of this building for an Assembly which many of us believe will never sit?

I have already dealt with that matter on an earlier Question. The present total expenditure committed on the work that we intend to complete, in terms of my earlier answer, is about £2 million.

As the Government originally resisted calls to reduce the size of the proposed Assembly on the grounds that it would interfere with the timetable for elections to the Assembly that the Government were hoping to apply, and now that the timetable has been put back indefinitely, will the Secretary of State give new and serious consideration to reducing the size of the Scottish Assembly to that which will not create an unnecessary burden for the Scottish people?

There have been arguments other than that of the time factor on the view that we take about the numbers in the Assembly. When we are able to make further progress with our proposals, no doubt that matter can be raised again, if hon. Members so wish.

Does not the Secretary of State think that it ill becomes English Members to enter into this discussion and suggest that this building is too good for a Scottish Assembly, which was the pledge of all parties? Should they not see the position against the background that it costs £5 million a year to run the Palace of Westminster?

I do not resent anyone's asking me questions about the High School. It is proper that hon. Members should do so. I am pleased to be able to make the position clear this afternoon.