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Today's debate has exposed SNP energy and economic policy for the sham that it is. Rather than widen options for Scottish business, the SNP wants to narrow them. Rather than looking outward to seize the opportunities of energy liberalisation throughout Europe, the SNP wants to retrench, isolating the energy industry in Scotland, threatening security of supply, endangering the low energy prices enjoyed in this country and narrowing the range of energy suppliers available.
The SNP's energy policy is alsosurprise, surpriseuncosted. The SNP has failed to spell out how it would pay for its policy on Dounreay and on the decommissioning of other nuclear facilities in Scotland if it were to lead Scotland to separation. In spite of the pledge in its 2001 manifesto that Dounreay would be
In a separate Scotland, the SNP would not only have to take on decommissioning costs for Dounreay, but pay for the closure and clean-up of other facilities at Rosyth and Faslane. Neither has the SNP given us the bottom line on unemployment. Not once have SNP Members talked about the consequences of their policies for ordinary people. They prefer to avoid concentrating on issues concerning the real people of Scotland, and revert, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is proving as I speak, to the school debating chamber.
The SNP has blown this opportunity to try to play a constructive part in building a modern Scotland. It has set out for all to see the poverty of its ideas, the shallowness of its policies and its outdated obsession with constitutional wrangling. It is easy to see why the SNP was rejected by the people of Scotland. It will continue to languish on the fringes of the body politic.
The Government's amendment recognises the strength of the partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executivea partnership endorsed by the people of Scotland and one that is making devolution work. I commend the Government's amendment to the House.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): When I was first appointed as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, a Labour Member, after a Westminster Hall debate, said, "Welcome back to the bearpit of Scottish politics." I have to say that listening to what has gone on this evening reminds me more of a family quarrel, because most family quarrels are characterised by long-standing lines of argument that everyone knows, everyone has heard before, and everyone thoroughly enjoys, even though no one outside has the first clue what they are about. That certainly characterised the exchanges that we have just heard.
I congratulate the Scottish National party on securing this debate, although I slightly agree with the Secretary of State that it is a great shame that its annual outing should come down to the equivalent of a spat between two Ministers. I congratulate the SNP none the less. We were told that the terms of the debate were set in such a way that the Conservatives would be able to support them. Some hon. Members may have noticed the absence of the word "nuclear" from the motion, yet the first subject to be brought up was nuclear power, followed swiftly by an admission from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that he believed in civil disobedience. I cannot think of a quicker way of ensuring that the Conservatives would be unlikely to support the motion.
Mr. Salmond: I am puzzled as to why the hon. Lady thinks that this subject is not of sufficient importance. Only last Thursday, the sole Conservative Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency described this as a developing crisis at the heart of government. Was it a developing crisis last Thursday? Is it still a developing crisis? Has the hon. Lady changed her mind? She cannot disagree with her only Scottish representative.
Mrs. Lait: If the hon. Gentleman had possessed his soul in a little more patience, he would have recognised that I was going on to say, having listened carefully to the Secretary of State's explanation of the situation, that it raised more questions in my mind than the original alleged disagreement between the two Ministers. That is what I would like to explore tonight.
If I understand the right hon. Lady correctly, I do not think that there is any disagreement that section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 is devolved, and that the Scottish Executive would have the authority under the current planning structure to make a decision on a nuclear power station entirely on planning grounds.
Mrs. Lait: Yes, I accept that entirely. I am glad to have had clarification on the matter. I do not want this speech to turn into a dialogue, but it may well do so, because I am trying to extract the precise details of the situation.
As I understand it, under executive devolution, the Scottish Executive would have the powerentirely on planning grounds and no othersto agree or disagree on a new nuclear power station. If that is soI accept the Secretary of State's point about the other part of the
Mrs. Liddell: I have heard of polyparenthetical sentences, but that one should probably take its place in "The Guinness Book of Records". The point to which the hon. Lady is referring is the very point that my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Scotland Office, raised. There are issues, particularly in relation to large infrastructure projects, which are the subject of discussion at the moment.
Mrs. Lait: Right. Discussionsconsultation exercises, whateverare going on at this very moment between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Scottish Executive. What would happen if different political parties were running the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament? If there were a fundamental disagreement in those circumstances, which Government would take precedence? My understanding of what the Secretary of State has said is that, when push comes to shove, the UK Government would make the overriding decision. If that is the case, the fears expressed by the Scottish National party have some substance, because the final decision-making power right at the end of the system would rest with the UK Government.
Schedule 9 of the Scotland Act 1998 implies that there is a legal recourse only if Scottish Executive Ministers exceed their powers. There would be no legal recourse if the UK Government Ministers exceeded their powers. This brings into play the new planning review and the role of the UK Government in deciding on planning issues through the House of Commons. The statutory instrument procedure, which appears to be the procedure referred to in the consultation document, takes an hour and a half, as we all know. If the planning procedure comes into effect, how would it affect strategic decisions in relation to the Scottish Executive? It seems to me that it would override the Scottish Executive's planning powers under the Scotland Act 1988 and the executive devolution of the Electricity Act 1989.
I come inescapably to the conclusion that, however friendly the current UK Government are with the current Scottish Executive, should there ever be a conflict between the two Governmentswe look forward to that happening sooner rather than laterthere would be no legal recourse to a solution to such a conflict. That is precisely the point that came out of the debate between the Minister of State, Scotland Office and the Minister for Industry and Energy. That is why this debate is crucial; it goes way beyond the triviality of the motion tabled by the SNP and straight to the heart of the devolution settlement.