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Memorandum of Understanding

Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

1. Whether he intends to review the memorandum of understanding governing relations between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive. (147620)

I do not intend to review the memorandum of understanding between the Government and the devolved Administrations. It is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor.

It is clear that Strathclyde police and the Met worked very closely and effectively over the incident at Glasgow airport. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether counter-terrorism should be regarded as a devolved matter and, bearing in mind the seriousness of the threat posed to the United Kingdom, whether indeed it should be?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that question. Counter-terrorism is a reserved matter. Our experience of the police investigations over the past week or so suggests that it is probably fixed as a reserved matter. In fact, devolution fits quite comfortably into that, even where policing is devolved, as it is in Scotland, where Strathclyde police, as he rightly points out, played a blinder, to coin a phrase, in the work that they did in co-operation across the UK.

I understand that my right hon. Friend does not need to review the memorandum of understanding, but will he, in his discussions with the Scottish Executive, take the opportunity to raise the recent announcement that could result in the loss of 900 jobs in my constituency if the Freescale closure goes ahead? Will he impress upon the new Scottish Executive that it is much more important to fight for jobs in Scotland than to talk about separation from the United Kingdom, which would put investment in Scotland at risk?

I understand the concern that my right hon. Friend, as the constituency Member for East Kilbride, shares with the 900 people who might lose their jobs if Freescale closes. He will know that the Scottish Executive gave significant support—about £1.9 million of regional selective assistance—to the company when it was known as Motorola. These matters are, and have been, the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, and they should not take their eye off the ball in meeting their responsibility to ensure that they create and sustain jobs for the benefit of people in Scotland—a record that we were rightly proud of having achieved when we ran the Executive.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the attack on Glasgow airport makes it more important than ever that we improve public transport access to our Scottish airports? That means investment in heavy rail into Glasgow airport and Edinburgh airport, as well as the new tram line to Edinburgh airport. Will he ask our new Transport Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly), to make it clear to the Scottish Executive that they should accept the democratic decision of the Scottish Parliament, let us get on with investing in trams and public transport and work with the British Government?

My right hon. Friend has a certain expertise in relation to transport. However, without that expertise, but as one who regularly uses both airports, I know how important it is that we build the infrastructure. It is important for not only security, as we saw from the attack on the airport building in Glasgow, but the sustainability of these drivers of the economy. I echo what he says. The will of the Scottish people in relation to these transport links is clear and democratically expressed, and we in the UK Government, particularly in the Department for Transport, stand ready to be of any assistance that we can in achieving that will.

The arrangements between the UK Government and the Scottish Government have worked particularly well in the past few weeks since the terrorist—

Order. Hon. Members must allow the hon. Gentleman to express himself. He is in order and it is important that others allow him to speak.

For those who could not hear me the first time, the arrangements between the Scottish Government and the UK Government have been working particularly well since the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to praise all those involved in countering the challenge of terrorism in Glasgow and elsewhere?

That is probably the easiest question that anyone has ever asked me at the Dispatch Box, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for it. I have absolutely no difficulty in repeating what I have said consistently since the incident: all those involved in responding to the immediate circumstances—those present at the scene, members of the public, those who provided services, members of the uniformed services who showed extraordinary bravery in difficult circumstances and those involved in investigating and responding to events—have worked very well and they are a credit to their services, themselves, Scotland and the United Kingdom. This is a fine example of those in the United Kingdom working collectively, and good evidence for why we should keep that Union.

It is almost as great a pleasure to question the right hon. Gentleman on Scotland from the Back Benches as it is to question him on defence from the Front Bench.

Should there be, as is widely feared, a proposal to close one of our three naval bases, and the right hon. Gentleman receives representations from the Scottish Executive that it should not be Faslane, but gets suggestions, while wearing his Ministry of Defence hat, that it should be, how will he resolve such a conflict of interest?

The hon. Gentleman asks not only a speculative question, which he knows I will not answer, but a complicated, speculative question. I think that I can respond to what underlies the question. I pride myself on the fact that every decision I made as Secretary of State for Defence, and in every other ministerial portfolio I have held, was made in the interests of the responsibilities I had in the job. I will continue to make decisions on defence in the interests of the defence of the United Kingdom, so there will be no conflict of interest.

As a fellow Ayrshire Member of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend extend to Glasgow Prestwick the congratulations and willingness to give support shown to Glasgow Abbotsinch? Prestwick was able to take diverted flights that day and the next without a single loss to the time-scheduled business of the airlines.

Everyone who played their part in ensuring a response throughout Scotland’s transport infrastructure that Saturday afternoon and into the Sunday, to ensure the safety of passengers and the public, deserves praise. Indeed, those at Glasgow Prestwick airport, which is just at the edge of my constituency, but unfortunately not in it, although it is in that of my hon. Friend, are entitled to credit for what they did to respond. That added to the safety of the people of Scotland, but also to their ability, given that many wanted to go on holiday that day, to do so with the minimum of disruption.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and I congratulate him, and the Minister of State on a well-deserved promotion.

The initial answer of the Secretary of State notwithstanding, does he not accept that the division of responsibilities between this place and the Parliament at Holyrood is now a topic that is ripe for review, as Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander and others have argued? If he were to join me in leading the call for reform of the constitutional convention, he could put his Department at the fulcrum of that debate.

Like the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who leads the hon. Gentleman’s party, I am wary of invitations to join anyone, lest the doors open in a fashion that one does not expect. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I understand that, like me, he has dual responsibilities and I congratulate him on his promotion to both those challenging jobs. I look forward to working for him—sorry, with him. [Laughter.] It was bound to happen. I look forward to working for him as a citizen of Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman, like me, was around in Scotland when a lot of the work was done, and he knows fine well that the devolution settlement, which was intended for the long term, took a long time to agree.

The hon. Gentleman says it was a process; we need to check the quotation that the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) constantly uses, because I think that he has it the wrong way round. In any event, to get back to the question, the settlement took some time.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and the members of his party never gave up their ambition of federalism. I understand that—they are entitled to come to the Chamber and ask questions that are designed to mask that federalist ambition. My view is that the settlement, which was cast for the long term, has not yet lasted that long term. It is still robust enough in its current form to serve the people of Scotland. He knows that the Scotland Act 1998 has a pragmatic mechanism for adjusting the settlement, if necessary, by orders in the House. I believe that there were 18 last year. The solution is perfectly pragmatic and can be adjusted. We need to spend less time arguing about the constitutional issues to do with the settlement and more time making it work for the people of Scotland.

May I associate Conservative Members with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the emergency services and members of the public who showed such bravery in the face of the incident at Glasgow airport?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Scotland Office and wish him well in his endeavours. I also welcome the new Minister of State. Given that we are all three staunch Unionists who are committed to making the devolution settlement work, I hope that we will make much common cause in the months ahead.

I do not want to begin by telling the Secretary of State how to do his job. However, I encourage him to eschew the complacency of his immediate predecessors and take a direct interest in the evolving mechanisms to allow full, frank and effective working relationships between London and Edinburgh. If it is not his job to review the memorandum of understanding, will he point out to the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor that it states that,

“this document will be reviewed by representatives of the administrations at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, at least annually and updated as necessary.”?

Like devolution, the memorandum of understanding is a pragmatic document. It was intended to serve not the processes but the people of Scotland. It has served the people of Scotland, in that methods of working in the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of the memorandum have been found to benefit them. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should have meetings for the purpose of meetings?

The Secretary of State has already made it clear that he understands that some Members of the Scottish Parliament interpreted the Government’s actions in recent times as compromising the spirit, if not the letter, of the memorandum. What can he say to the House today to reassure Members of the Scottish Parliament that arrangements between London and Edinburgh will be based on mutual respect? What steps will he take to ensure that all branches of the UK Government, including the Prime Minister’s office, are fully engaged on that basis, regardless of the opportunities that arise to highlight political differences?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no interest in playing politics with my role of representing Scotland in the Cabinet or being the Minister who is responsible for ensuring that the devolution settlement works for the people of Scotland. I know from my conversations with him before I took the job that he has no interest in playing politics, either.

We should all act against the words that we sometimes use, and I will live up to that. I intend to work co-operatively—I have done it, both across the Chamber and beyond the Chamber with other Governments, in every ministerial post that I have had. I am therefore certain sure that I can co-operate with other Scots politicians.