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Devolution Settlement

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2010

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the relationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive under the devolution settlement. (317405)

My right hon. Friend last met the First Minister on 11 January at the national jobs summit in Glasgow. He also wrote to the First Minister calling on him to delay the referendum Bill and join us in focusing attention on supporting people in Scotland as we move from recession to recovery.

I am grateful for that answer. Is the Minister able to tell us why during the financial crisis, which the Secretary of State pointed out hit Scotland hard because of the impact of the banking crisis, the Prime Minister did not meet the First Minister to discuss these important issues for almost a year?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we continually work constructively together with the Scottish Government on a whole range of issues, including those around the recession and the banking crisis. There have not only been regular meetings between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but regular joint ministerial meetings on domestic issues as well as European and financial meetings. The devolution settlement is working well.

Surely there can be no more important discussion between the Government here and the Scottish Executive than about the confidence of people in the electoral system that elects the Scottish Parliament, which was set up by this Parliament. It seems to me that if the proposal is to put a confused question in a referendum and to have either what was called the Condorcet system, which was last abandoned 80 years ago in Michigan, or the de Borda system, which is used to elect the two Slovenian ethnic minority members, that must undermine the confidence of the people in the electoral system. Surely the Scottish Executive must be called to account on that question.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the lack of proper priorities on the part of the Scottish Government at this time. Our sole priority should be to tackle the recession and to get people back into work, instead of trying to create yet another quango at considerable public expense for no good purpose whatever and conducting a referendum that no one wants at this time.

More than eight weeks ago, the finance committee of the Scottish Parliament made a perfectly reasonable request for a Treasury Minister to come to Holyrood and explain the implications of the pre-Budget report for Scotland. No reply has yet been received. The Chancellor may well have been distracted by fighting back the forces of hell, while the Secretary of State may have been distracted by appealing to the forces of heaven. Is there any hope that the two of them might now come down to a more earthly plane, show respect to the Scottish Parliament, and grant that request?

This Government have paid respect to the Scottish Parliament by setting up and supporting the Calman commission. The hon. Gentleman took part in that process, and will be aware of the commission’s recommendations. We have agreed that we are more than happy for the Secretary of State to visit the Scottish Parliament to discuss issues relating to the Queen’s Speech and other issues of government, but regrettably the Scottish Government have been completely unpersuaded to join in and become seriously involved in matters of parliamentary protocol.