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Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK

UK: Scotland

Reid accused of 'empire building'

MPs debated post-devolutionary changes at Westminster

Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid has been accused of empire building and attempting to enhance the role of Scottish MPs in the wake of devolution.

The Scottish National Party attack came during a House of Commons debate in which ministers ruled out the abolition of the Scottish select committees at Westminster and any changes to MPs' voting rights.

The government said the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish Affairs Committee would foster good relations between politicians at Westminster and the new Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

[ image: Dr John Reid: Under attack]
Dr John Reid: Under attack
However, while the Liberal Democrats said the grand committee was now superfluous, SNP Deputy Leader John Swinney said plans to keep it were simply an attempt by the Scottish secretary to beef up his own role and that of Scottish MPs.

Government proposals to update Westminster procedures include a shortened Scottish Questions in the House of Commons.

However, ministers said the Scottish committees would be retained and there would be no action to address the so-called West Lothian Question.

Tories had renewed their demands for a bar on Scottish MPs voting on English legislation at Westminster because English MPs have not been afforded the right to vote on matters in the Scottish Parliament.

Leader of the House, Margaret Beckett, said changes would continue as the new constitutional arrangement developed but ruled out changes to voting rights and said the Scottish committee would remain in place.

She said: "In one respect the role of the two select committees will change to reflect the responsibilities of the two secretaries of state.

"But in another sense they will broaden to include liaison between the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales."

'Source of friction'

The Liberal Democrats argued that the grand committee in particular was no longer necessary, with constitutional affairs spokesman Robert MacLennan warning that it would be a possible "source of friction".

But Mr Swinney was more critical and said the government had simply extended the process of "giving institutions to Scottish MPs at Westminster who don't quite have enough to do with themselves".

"That's what we take exception to because the Scottish Parliament is doing good and fine work in the scrutiny of important issues.

"The reserve areas can be adequately handled by the Scottish Affairs Committee."

[ image: John Swinney: Attacked proposals]
John Swinney: Attacked proposals
He added: "We don't want to see more and more building on building to create a job and a role for the Secretary of State for Scotland and his not-so-busy Labour MPs from Westminster."

Conservative constitutional spokesman, Sir George Young, said changes must be made to voting.

He said: "Now that we have new arrangements for resolving domestic priorities and legislative programmes in Scotland, arrangements to which English and Welsh MPs are not a party, it's no longer for Scottish MPs to retain rights on the same issues in England and Wales."

Dr Reid said devolution had produced an "unholy alliance" between the SNP and the Tories.

Their aim was to "impede the practical working out of the devolution settlement".

He said of the SNP: "They support the Scottish Parliament the way a rope supports a hanging man.

"They support devolution in order to strangle a devolved settlement because they recognise devolution means a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom."

He denied there was any intention to duplicate the work of the Scottish Parliament in the Grand Committee. The debate ended without a vote.

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