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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Minister defends Sewel convention
Margaret Curran
Margaret Curran said there was no "hidden agenda" over Sewel motions
A minister has complained of "unfounded" attacks on the Sewel motion which sets out the legislative deal between Holyrood and Westminster.

Parliamentary Business Manager Margaret Curran said the procedure was the right one for Scotland.

She denied the Scottish Executive had a "hidden agenda" through its use of the convention, which critics say is being used too frequently.

Opponents also say it is used to pass controversial decisions to Westminster.

Ms Curran made the complaint during evidence to Holyrood's procedures committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the use of the system devised by Labour peer Lord Sewel when devolution legislation was going through Westminster in the late 1990s.

The convention makes sense in principle and practice - it gives us the best of both legislative worlds at Holyrood and at Westminster
Margaret Curran
Parliamentary Business Manager

Written evidence to the committee from the executive said that in the six years since the start of devolution, Holyrood had given its consent to Westminster legislation on 63 occasions.

These resulted in a total of 55 acts of the Westminster parliament being passed only after Holyrood consented.

The provisions relating to Scotland had been "quite limited in nature" and typically related to specific provisions in a Westminster bill rather than large parts of the bill, the executive said.

Ms Curran told the committee that far from undermining devolution the convention "respected" the devolution settlement.

She said: "It recognises that while in constitutional and legal terms Westminster could legislate on devolved matters, it will not normally do so without the parliament's consent."

'Best of both worlds'

Ms Curran complained that critics sometimes ignored the principles underlying the convention for political reasons.

The minister said: "Quite unfounded assertions have been made that somehow powers are being transferred back to Westminster.

"Unfortunately, as a result, a good deal of misconceptions and misunderstandings have grown up around the convention which have had the effect of creating a degree of artificial and misplaced public and political controversy.

MSPs in chamber
Sewel Motions are used to facilitate Scottish legislation

"The convention makes sense in principle and practice - it gives us the best of both legislative worlds at Holyrood and at Westminster."

The way the Sewel convention operated had improved over time and she denied there was a lack of executive accountability.

"It is not remotely in our interest not be to accountable, because it leads to more effective legislation," she said.

But the minister was closely questioned by the MSPs on the operation of the convention, on how MSPs were kept abreast of Sewel legislation as it went through Westminster and how Westminster was kept abreast of MSPs' views.

She told Jamie McGrigor, Tory MSP for Highlands and Islands region that it would not have been possible before 1999 to accurately predict how often the convention would be used.

Ms Curran was also questioned by Bruce McFee, SNP MSP for West of Scotland, on whether there should be a procedure by which Sewel legislation passed at Westminster should then be sent to Holyrood to be finally "signed off" or amended by MSPs.

The minister told him it was important not to get the significance of the Sewel procedure "out of proportion".

"They represent a very minor part of the legislative programme," she said.

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