Scotland in the World: A New Perspective

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Angus Robertson: The Secretary of State can ask her British Government colleagues why, if the meetings are not important, British Ministers attend them.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: No, I have taken more than enough interventions. [Interruption.] I would like to give the Secretary of State the actual statistics. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. There is too much noise in the Committee.

Angus Robertson: The Scottish Executive have attended a paltry 12.2 per cent. of Council of Ministers meetings since devolution. In terms of a raw figure, that is only three more than were attended before devolution.

Rosemary McKenna rose—

Mr. Donohoe rose—

Angus Robertson: No, I will not give way.

Miss Begg: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: No, I will not.

The hon. Member for Hamilton, South will be aware that some of the key decisions are not taken at Council of Ministers meetings but at working groups. That is where the key issues are hashed out between officials. The UK Government have never answered the key question of how many working group meetings are attended by Scottish Executive officials, but the number was confirmed by the head of the Scottish Executive office in Brussels. Between 1997 and 1999, 75 meetings were attended, which sounds like a lot. However, that is 75 out of 4,500, which is an attendance of 1.7 per cent., with 98 per cent. bunking off. Our representation is pathetic.

Miss Begg: It seems clear that the hon. Gentleman believes that only someone from the Scottish Executive can speak on behalf of Scotland. If there are representatives from the United Kingdom Government, there is a chance that they will be Scottish as, after all, there are more Scots in the British Labour Cabinet than there are members of the SNP in this place.

Angus Robertson: The key point that I am making is that devolution surely means that decisions about devolved matters are taken in Scotland and that devolved matters discussed at a European level should be dealt with by devolved Scottish Ministers. The attendance is appalling.

Mr. Tynan: On that basis, there are 17 regions in Spain that have more autonomy than the Scottish Parliament. Central Government in Spain have recognised the fact that there is devolved and central government, and Ministers of central Government attend meetings, not the people from the regions. Would the hon. Gentleman consider that in the context of Scotland, where a partnership is taking place between Scotland and the United Kingdom? He should worry not about meetings but about what it is being done for the people of Scotland.

Angus Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, because his point is sensible. However, I am sorry that he chose to overlook Germany, Austria and Belgium, which are all countries with a level of direct representation far in excess of Scotland's, whether in terms of their integration in the federal structure or of direct representation at a European level. Perhaps he will also agree that he chose to overlook the fact that the commission set up on Spain will include a Basque, a Catalan and a Galician to consider the future of Europe. The Secretary of State could not confirm whether anyone from Scotland would be involved.

Mr. Tynan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: I have taken more than 12 interventions, so I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to move towards my conclusion.

The Secretary of State asked us to have a new perspective on Scotland in the world. We agree that that is important, but a large part of the perspective ignores the global economic realities and, sadly, the opportunities. The SNP welcomes and will encourage volunteers to help boost Scotland, but that cannot and should not replace the need for dedicated professional staff like those of our competitors. The perspective of the Secretary of State and the Labour party is to control devolved functions and talk down Scotland's ability to take an effective and direct role in international economic, political and diplomatic developments.

The Secretary of State prefers that Scottish Executive Ministers should hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing in the key decision-making organisations in European and the world. That is no new perspective: it is the same old Labour tune, which ignores the reality of the world and fails to trust our abilities to improve on the second-rate deal that Scotland currently gets.

12.33 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State about friends of Scotland. I am glad that the initiative has support from across the House. However, the grudging tone—to put it mildly—of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) suggests the old adage, ``With friends like that, who needs enemies?'' I hope that if any members of the Scottish National party are sent on any overseas missions on behalf of friends of Scotland, they give a pledge that they will talk Scotland up and not down, as he has done today.

The initiative is welcome. Many other countries with a substantial diaspora make use of the contacts that that gives them throughout the world, and Ireland has been mentioned in that context. I do not have any Scottish ancestors, but I have been contacted by official bodies from Poland and community representatives in this country, who recognise the value of using the contacts that they can make with Members such as myself. I am sure that hundreds if not thousands of parliamentarians of Scottish descent in countries around the world can play a role by being friends of Scotland abroad. The initiative does not need to be restricted to people of Scottish ancestry. My constituency has a substantial Pakistani and Bangladeshi community, and many successful business men and women there see themselves as friends of Scotland and want to use every opportunity to promote Scotland in the countries from which their ancestors came.

This morning, the Secretary of State highlighted some of the success stories of the Scottish economy. It is important to talk up those successes, and to give the right message to the outside world. One of those successes is the financial sector. That is of particular interest to me, as my constituency contains the international headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, the headquarters of several other Scottish financial institutions and major employers such as Standard Life, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Lloyd's TSB Scotland, to name but a few. However, it is not only a constituency interest.

I and a few other hon. Members were fortunate this morning to attend a briefing by representatives of Scottish Financial Enterprise. They emphasised the importance of the financial sector not only to Edinburgh and Glasgow but to the entire Scottish economy. That sector employs 90,000 people directly and another 90,000 in support services. It has grown by almost 10 per cent. in the past year, which is another success story. That success can not only benefit the financial sector itself but, because of its international connections, it can be used to promote Scotland actively and positively to the outside world. That discussion highlighted also the importance of Scottish links to the wider world and of having the right policies to build on those links and ensure better relations with the outside world.

Two issues mentioned this morning are of particular importance to the financial sector. The first is Europe. It was made clear this morning that the financial institutions' view is that the decision whether to join the euro is political rather than financial. They are well prepared for entry into the eurozone. We heard that one of the main institutions has spent about £65 million preparing for the introduction of the euro because much of its business is done within the zone. The extra costs of British membership would be relatively small. However, too long a period of uncertainty on membership of the euro would certainly be damaging for the financial sector. That is why I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South, who supports membership of the euro and wants a decision to be taken at the earliest possible date.

The other point raised this morning was the need of the financial sector, in Scotland and the UK generally, for a level playing field when dealing with the rest of Europe. Concern was expressed about the fact that some sectors of the financial services industry elsewhere in Europe are excessively regulated in order to protect the domestic market. That problem needs to be addressed. We in Scotland benefit from being a major player in the European market, because it gives us the opportunity to make our case in Europe. If we had only the smaller participatory role that the SNP wants, we would no longer have that benefit.

The conclusion I draw from considering the financial services sector, as with so many other sectors of our economy and industry that depend on strong international links, is how important it is for Scotland that we now have stability in our country's constitutional settlement. [Interruption.] SNP Members may make the case for independence and separation if they so wish—it is a respectable view to hold—but I sometimes wish that they would propose it with a little more honesty than comes through in their campaigns.

Mr. Salmond: I have no problem with the hon. Gentleman having views, but he should not project them on to business or financial institutions that lobby him as their Member of Parliament. One does not do that sort of thing. If he knew the private political views of two of the most senior financial people in Scotland, he would not make that point. He should make his own points if he is against independence, and should not make them as though they came from other people—that is not on.

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Prepared 28 November 2001