Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-85)



  80. It would be useful to have the actual figures?
  (Mr Gordon) We will try and get figures for you.[8]

Mr Joyce

  81. For the annual managed expenditure and the departmental expenditure there will be a switch next year with resource based accounting coming with Treasury. Will future departmental reporting reflect any implication that has and also what accounting changes has for the funding system of the Scottish Executive?
  (Mr Gordon) Yes, of course.

  Chairman: Can I thank you for agreeing to give us a follow up memoranda, the Committee will look forward to those as soon as possible.

Mr Robertson

  82. The Secretary of State and the Minister will not be surprised at me coming in on this subject, the plight of the workers is well known in Scotland. I want to broaden it out a bit more about the ship building in Scotland in general. We know what has happened in Clyde and other areas, perhaps you can say what you and your department are doing to assist the ship building industry and how you see the future of that industry in Scotland?
  (Mrs Liddell) I will ask the Minister of State to talk about the Clyde Task Force in a minute. One of the ways we were able to help in relation to the Clyde yards was in our liaison with the Ministry of Defence, particularly in relation to procurement issues. The Minister of State and I both as representatives of the Government travel reasonably frequently and I have discussed with Ministers for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning means whereby we can act as, not quite as salesmen, but where we can draw it to the attention of Governments who may have an interest in placing orders the facilities are available on the Clyde. That is something that we will happily do. I think in relation to shipbuilding in general the fact that the Minister of State sits on the Clyde Task Force gives us a very important liaison role, a facilitating role there, which allows us also to feed back the views of that Clyde Task Force into the Ministry of Defence as well, because often, particularly now on the Clyde, with defence orders being of critical importance, keeping the MOD on side is of great value. The Minister of State is doing this as a day-to-day issue at the moment.
  (Mr Foulkes) We did anticipate that Mr Robertson might raise this and I hope it is not gratuitous to say he has been taking a very keen interest in it. He will know that after every meeting—and I have been at every Clyde Task Force meeting—I have written to the Members of Parliament representing the areas affected telling them exactly what has come up at the meeting and I have also had informal discussions with them about it. I have offered to meet all of the members, individually or collectively, in relation to that. Also, as the Secretary of State said, I have had a number of meetings and discussions with Adam Ingram, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence about defence orders. We are hoping that the decision about the landing craft will be made very soon, it has gone on too long, the debates and discussion between the Ministry of Defence and the company. We hope that that decision will be made soon. We have also indicated, and I think it is a very important role for the Scotland Office, that in relation to overseas orders that we can promote and work to try and ensure that these come to Scotland. I have indicated that to the Defence Exports Sales Organisation through the Minister of State. We have had a positive response and we hope to set in motion some specific activity in relation to that. Also, the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Defence, Lord Bach, visited Malaysia to encourage the possibility of additional orders from Malaysia to the Clyde. So everything that we can do is being done. I think my membership of the Clyde Task Force keeps me plugged into that. Also, because we are here regularly in Westminster we can talk immediately with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence.
  (Mrs Liddell) I think too the shipbuilding issue very much underpins how important it is to have a Scottish voice at the heart of Government because there are issues wider than the defence issues. For example, the European Industry Council is looking at unfair subsidies to shipbuilding industries and, indeed, there are anxieties among many of our European partners who are shipbuilders, about Korea and the levels of subsidy that are given to shipbuilding in countries such as that and there have been representations by the European Union to the WTO on these matters. Being plugged into those discussions is actually very important for the Scotland Office and for Scotland. That is a way whereby our detailed knowledge of what is happening on the ground in Scotland can feed in to overall discussions that are being held by Her Majesty's Government in Europe and elsewhere.

  83. If I can thank particularly the Minister of State for all the help he has given myself in particular and the area of Scotstoun. I want to open it up a bit because it was shipbuilding in general in Scotland. Rosyth has suffered quite a lot of job losses and there are other areas of fishing vessels not being built in Scotland where we hoped to have these vessels being built in Scotland. What I am aiming for is support for the industry in Scotland in general. I would love everything to go to Scotstoun on the Clyde but I do not expect that to happen.
  (Mrs Liddell) I think that is an area where we, as part of the United Kingdom Government, have a role to play because we still have a significant shipbuilding and boat building industry that is of importance to us, but often Scotland's interests have to be represented internationally because it is international competitiveness and perhaps some anti-competitive practices elsewhere that can have a negative impact on our industry. That is why the strength of the United Kingdom Government's position is of great value to Scotland.

Mr Lyons

  84. What will be the impact of the landing craft order coming to the Glasgow yards?
  (Mr Foulkes) That is very important for the yards. We would hope that steel cutting would start fairly quickly after an agreement about the price. There is an understanding that two of them will be built on the Clyde but the agreement has not been absolutely finalised yet, it is taking longer than expected. It would mean steel cutting would start this side of the new year, which is very important.
  (Mrs Liddell) And it is this issue of steel cutting, as you know, which is the one that we are most concerned about.


  85. Before we finish, on a general point, you have said that one of the Scottish Office's key roles is to ensure Whitehall is sensitive to Scotland's interests. What steps can be taken to ensure that the Scotland Office performs this role effectively?
  (Mrs Liddell) I think our involvement in Cabinet committees is very important. Sometimes we are stretched because there are only two Ministers and we are very grateful to the Advocate General who has been known to stand in for us at Cabinet committees. That is the area where the voice of Scotland is most heard in Government. Also keeping close contact on a personal basis with our Whitehall colleagues. I frequently can resolve issues with a chat, with a phone call to a Whitehall Minister or a fellow Member of the Cabinet on issues that might be causing difficulty. Going back to something I mentioned earlier, I think from the point of view of spreading best practice in devolution, we are a resource for Whitehall as well as a resource for the Scottish Executive and I think by giving more people experience of how the devolution settlement works that will enhance the overall knowledge of how we make devolution successful, not just for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and also with an elected Mayor in London but also if devolution rolls out across England as well. Indeed, we have found in discussions about the nations and regions and the impact on England that we bring a body of experience, of change, and what we are about is the management of change, probably the biggest constitutional change we have seen in this country, certainly for 300 years. At the end of the day it is very important that the Scottish Parliament legislation stands up, that we have a good working relationship to make the UK legislation we do in Scotland for Scotland consistent with Scots law and the various institutions that exist in Scotland. The First Minister and I are working in parallel as well as in tandem to achieve the same objective, which is to make the devolution settlement work. So far I am pleased with the way things are going and I am hoping to build on that work in the future.
  (Mr Foulkes) It will not surprise you, Chairman, to hear that I agree with every word the Secretary of State said. The only point I would add is just as we are convinced there is a very important continuing role for the Scotland Office, I hope it does not sound gratuitous also to add that that means there is a very important continuing role for the Scottish Affairs Committee.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for your attendance this morning and we look forward to issuing our report. Thank you.

8   Ev 19. Back

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