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7.27 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had any indication from the Secretary of State for Health that he intends to make a statement to the House this evening, possibly at 10 pm, on the suspension of a civil servant in his Department? It apparently arises from the failure of the Department of Health to answer a number of parliamentary questions. As those were parliamentary questions, Parliament has a right to hear about the matter, rather than learning about it from the media. Hon. Members have not been properly notified; we should not hear about the matter on the news. The Secretary of State should make a statement in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I am not aware of the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but he has made the point that he wanted to make. I have no knowledge of a statement being requested.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On a different matter, but connected with a parliamentary question, I seek your guidance in respect of an astonishing answer that I have received tonight from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence. I asked him on 6 February, which is a very long time ago—the answer is already a month late—to let me have the latest strength of the Territorial Army by unit and location, as against its establishment.

I received a reply tonight, which states that the Under-Secretary regrets


Even allowing for the Government's difficulty in assembling factual accuracy, to be polite, is it not astonishing that the answer to a question of such importance can be dealt with in such a way? As I have already waited a month for the answer, may I have your guidance on how it may be possible for us to establish the strength and establishment of the TA, which is, after all, the land defence of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I have no responsibility for the content of ministerial answers.

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Nuclear Power

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.30 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I beg to move,


In the previous debate, my colleagues from Plaid Cymru pressed for clarity on the Government's response to the accusations and information that they were bringing before the House, but clarity came there none. I hope that we have better luck in getting clarity on Government thinking on the development of power stations, especially nuclear power stations, in Scotland.

For those hon. Members who are not familiar with the story as it has developed over the past week, the chaos and confusion at the heart of the Government became evident in an interview that the Minister of State, Scotland Office gave to the BBC "Reporting Scotland" programme last week. On the development of energy, especially nuclear power, the hon. Gentleman said:


The hon. Gentleman may think that daft, but many Members of the Scottish Parliament and people in Scotland would think it daft to give powers to the Scottish Parliament in 1997, as confirmed by the people in a referendum, only to take them back a few years later.

The hon. Gentleman set out Government policy but, to be fair, it lasted only 12 hours. The following morning, again on the BBC—the recipient of so much information from the Government—the Minister for Industry and Energy responded by saying:


We want the Government to clarify their policy. Where is the final decision to be made on the development of new power stations, including, more controversially, of nuclear power stations? Does the power lie with the Scottish Executive—responsible to the Scottish Parliament, "end of story", as the Minister for Industry and Energy said—or does it not behove the Scottish Parliament to thwart the

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United Kingdom's energy policy, as the Minister of State, Scotland Office said? They cannot both be right. One must represent Government policy.

We know what is in the Scotland Act 1998. The Minister for Industry and Energy has been specific on the powers. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and me in November, he made it clear that the powers rightly lie with the Scottish Executive. Incidentally, I know that the letter is important because the Prime Minister's office phoned my office on Thursday to request a copy. I have no idea why the right hon. Gentleman's office did not just ask the Minister. However, the letter confirmed the planning policy guidelines as set out in section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, under which the power of consent for a power station of more than 50 MW lies with the Scottish Executive, responsible to the Scottish Parliament.

The power is not narrowly drawn. The guidelines for planning policy set out the criteria against which a decision should be judged. They include the policy of the Scottish Executive and the Government's policy on reserved matters, national planning policy guidelines, European policy, the draft structure or local plan, the environmental impact of a proposal, the design of a proposed development, access, the provision of infrastructure, the planning history of a site, the views of statutory bodies and other consultees, and legitimate public concern or support expressed on the relevant planning matters.

Until the intervention of the Minister of State, Scotland Office on the BBC last week, it was widely assumed that the power lay with the Scottish Executive. Our suggestion that there might be a reserve grab-back power that the Westminster Government would want to exert over the Scottish Parliament was described by the former First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, in a letter to John Swinney on 23 August as "a sensationalist view". He accused the Scottish National party leader of publicising a sensationalist view, but only a few months later the Minister of State, Scotland Office has confirmed what my colleague argued might be at the back of the minds of the Government in London.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Gentleman refers to the accusation that his suggestion was a sensationalist view. Unfortunately, that view has come true in Wales: section 36 agreements were not devolved to Wales. In addition, the Government in London are increasingly attempting to take back the devolved powers that the National Assembly for Wales has over power stations between 1 MW and 50 MW. They are trying that policy out in Wales. It is surely the Government's intention to introduce it in Scotland as well.

Mr. Salmond: No doubt my hon. Friend will consider the Welsh position in detail if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is worth pointing out, however, that the letter from the Minister for Industry and Energy to my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and me also dealt with the Welsh situation. Although it confirmed what my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) says, the Minister for Industry and Energy also said that the views of the Welsh people will be taken into account when any decision is

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made. We are beginning to wonder whether the views of the Welsh and Scottish people will be listened to, taken into account and then disregarded if they are seen as thwarting Government policy.

I am interested in the role reversal—the political cross-dressing—that is taking place. The Minister of State, Scotland Office is a lifelong professed devolutionist. He once described himself as an ultra-devolutionist—a "dog of war"—as he harried the Tory Government in the early 1990s, but he now seems to be adopting the position that Westminster should have reserved powers over such matters. The Minister for Industry and Energy, however, whose record on devolution and the Scottish Parliament is chequered, seems to be emerging as the champion of the Scots Parliament by saying that the powers should reside in Scotland—"end of story". What is going on? Have they swapped their positions? Only last week, someone told me that it was like "Alice Through the Looking Glass", with the Minister of State, Scotland Office arguing the pure Unionist position and the Minister for Industry and Energy arguing from the Scottish perspective. Stranger things have seldom happened in politics.

Although the issue is important for energy development in Scotland, especially as nuclear power might be foisted on an unwilling Scottish Executive, Parliament and population, I want to determine whether a theme is developing in the attitude of the Scotland Office to the powers that are being exercised in the Scottish Parliament.


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