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Scottish Parliament

7.12 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour rose to call attention to the need to take into account historical considerations, ease of access from all parts of Scotland and the convenience of Members and the public when deciding the site for the Scottish Parliament; and to move for Papers.

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, until the past few weeks it has been assumed in Scotland that a Scots parliament, if it ever came about, would be sited at Edinburgh's Calton Hill, using the handsome building which was once the Royal High School, the fine 1930s Scottish Office building across the road and buildings and lands adjacent to both. It is well known that the chamber for the parliament's meetings already exists there. It was created for the Scottish assembly planned for 1979, but since that was turned down in a referendum it has been used from time to time for meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee and other bodies. Therefore, most people know from television what that chamber looks like. People have also seen on their television screens devotees earnestly keeping day and night vigils on the hill, packing up in celebratory style only when the referendum result was announced.

Therefore, there was some astonishment when recently the Secretary of State for Scotland expressed the view that Calton Hill, so long taken for granted, was too expensive. It was said to be an awkward site and the Government believed that a bright and purpose-built parliament at Leith, close to a building recently erected for civil servants, would be cheaper and more convenient. There was an immediate outcry against that idea. The Government did one of their swift somersaults and said that three sites--Calton Hill, Leith and one near Haymarket--would be examined and costed as possible options.

In Written and Oral Answers in another place, at cols. 107 and 157 of the Official Report of 4th November, the Secretary of State announced the commissioning of design feasibility studies for the three sites, costings and transport and environmental impact assessments. The firms involved were named and it was said that the work was to be completed by mid-December at a cost of £250,000.

That was probably a necessary decision, although the timescale looks tight. Since the existence of three options was revealed, the machinations of competing vested interests, not least within the Edinburgh local authority and the Port Authority, have made it difficult for the public to assess the true pros and cons. I just hope that the Secretary of State will not do as the Government did in respect of university fees and Dearing; I hope that he will not announce his decision on the day the report is published and, because of haste, get it wrong. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that he will allow time for people to study the report before any decisions are made. I say that because this is an important decision for all of us in Scotland.

Of course, cost matters greatly, but it has to be said that the whole devolution exercise will not come cheap. Comparatively small differences in the cost of the options should certainly not be the only deciding factor. If devolution is to give the satisfaction that is intended--and we must all hope that it does--surely the parliament building must be a worthy focus; a prominent building of quality on a first-class site; a beacon--as Mr. Blair likes to say--at the centre of Scotland's national life; a symbol of Scotland's particular place within the United Kingdom that benefits us all.

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Obviously, it must also be as accessible as possible from all parts of Scotland and beyond for elected members, civil servants and the public. I quite see that an exciting new building has attractions, but to site it down by the sea at Leith, attractive as Leith may be, would be like asking everyone working at or visiting the United Kingdom Parliament to come and go to London's Docklands. I suggest that only the group of civil servants already housed at Leith would find that idea convenient.

To site a new building near Haymarket would certainly make more sense than Leith. Trains from the west and north stop there, it is on the right side of the city centre for the airport and space is available. But it seemed to me--I may be wrong--that the site cannot be prominent or give a feeling of "specialness", unless the Secretary of State has Donaldson's Hospital building in mind. However, I do not believe that that has ever been mentioned.

On the other hand, Calton Hill is already special. It is even more accessible by rail than Haymarket, being five minutes walk from Waverley Station where all trains to Edinburgh arrive. It is marginally less easy to reach by road from the west and north but easier from the east and south. Calton Hill's real specialness is in its position and existing buildings. On a hillside visible from much of the city, with a magnificent view of Arthur's Seat, the old Royal High School is an impressive pillared classical building, solid and unadorned in Scots style, designed by Thomas Hamilton and completed in 1829.

Inside is the 1979 debating chamber. It is U-shaped and thus appropriate for the not-so-confrontational style which we are told proportional representation will produce. That and the accommodation around were designed for an assembly of 144 members, so it should easily contain the 129 members now proposed, particularly, I suggest, as new technology demands less manpower.

Over the road in St. Andrew's House is the Scottish Office, designed for that purpose by William Tait in the style of the 1930s and opened in 1939. There will be no need for the Scottish Office any more so, with a bridge over the road or, some suggest, a tunnel, that building could house the elected members' offices and perhaps any conferences too large for the intimate high school chamber.

Appropriately, over the doors of that building--and some of your Lordships will know this--are statues by Reid Dick. They represent health, agriculture, fisheries, education and architecture or housing, all powers to be devolved to the parliament. A sixth statue seems likewise to be tailor-made: it represents statecraft. I have not seen it but I understand that there is room in a courtyard behind St. Andrew's House for some extra accommodation; for example, a media centre could be situated there. All that would mean relocating a comparatively small number of civil servants now based in St. Andrew's House. I suggest that that should not be too much of a problem since the Scottish Office departments are already scattered in various parts of the city besides Leith--at South Gyle, Saughton, Sight Hill and so on.

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Apart from those buildings, Calton Hill has other features representing Scotland's key role in United Kingdom and European history. On top of the hill, visible from most of the city is the memorial to Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars, the first memorial to Nelson erected in 1819, long before London's Nelson's Column, a Carnegie, I may say, having commanded the van at Trafalgar. There is the old City Observatory, a house by James Craig who laid out the New Town of Edinburgh, a monument to Hume and down the road, a statue of Burns. There is also, it must be said, some shady activity at night which badly needs cleaning up, high on the hill.

The Prime Minister is keen to emphasis that which is new, fresh and modern about our country. I agree with him wholeheartedly. But when you possess a site like Calton Hill, convenient to reach, sitting splendidly above the capital city, full of the past 200 years of Scotland's story and for 20 years the focus of expectation for the next chapter of history, is it right to cast aside that site? I believe that it is at least a debatable question. I much look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords and, of course, to the Minister's reply. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

7.25 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for introducing this debate about the location of our longed-for Scottish parliament. I welcome also the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, to a speakers' list of what is otherwise made up of the usual suspects.

It is a strange feature that the issue of the site has become a crisis only since the highly satisfactory referendum result. There was a sense of relief at the central count at the EICC when the first result, from Clackmannanshire, proved to be a magnificent 80-68 in favour, which set the tone for that long night. It is worth saying that I believe that the Scottish electorate was extremely impressed by the formation of the broadest coalition that Scotland has seen in recent years. The level of consensus achieved was noteworthy and much approved of.

I turn to the discussion of the site of the parliament. This is not the first time in this century that the UK and its Parliament has had to face up to the issue of selecting the site of a new parliament. After the Government of Ireland Act 1920, locations were sought in both Dublin and Belfast. The issue of tradition was certainly present in the consideration of a site for the admittedly ill-fated parliament of southern Ireland. However, there were no such considerations in Belfast when a greenfield and peripheral site was chosen at Stormont Castle for the parliament of Northern Ireland. I make the observation that Belfast had never previously been a capital city.

In terms of Scotland and its parliament, I believe that the arguments for a location outside of Edinburgh are now all lost. That does not mean that the claims of, for example, Glasgow, Falkirk, Sterling, Perth and Dunfermline, are not valid. They all have merit in either historical, economic or geographic terms. I accept that

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Edinburgh has the acceptable claim both in terms of tradition and reasonable public transport. Yes, the Scottish parliament met in Edinburgh on most occasions in the years leading up to the Union of the parliaments; and yes, Scottish public transport is reasonably orientated towards Edinburgh, although it must be said that Glasgow Airport has a greater volume of traffic and a wider network, particularly from the islands. Rail communication, where it exists, is possibly better for Edinburgh. However, it remains a long way from the remoter areas of the north and north west Scotland.

Within the city of Edinburgh, there are sites with various merits. Calton Hill has good public transport links but may be rather congested. Leith has the merits of a brownfield site for, I suspect, a shiny new parliament but at present has poor public transport links. Morrison Street car park has trains rumbling underneath it. Having suffered that phenomenon for 39 days of the Strathclyde tram inquiry at Charing Cross in Glasgow, I do not wish that on the Scottish parliament. It must be said that the Morrison Street car park has admirable links with Haymarket railway station but now with the buses from outwith Edinburgh.

Whichever site is chosen, there must be room for the parliament and its inevitable range of facilities. It would be sensible to ensure that the parliamentary estate is adequate for more than just a devolved parliament with limited powers. It would be wise to do that now as I believe that progress will be made towards either federal autonomy or independence within the next two decades, and that based on the confidence gained from home rule.

In support of that, when I see the Barnett formula being tossed aside and the President of the Board of Trade trying to stamp out internal competition, I can see that there is still along way to go in learning how to run a Union. The loss of incentives to stay in the UK will play a significant part in loosening the Union ties. We are supposed to be developing a United Kingdom that is not dominated by any one part. The benefit of UK membership is always under review and continuously needs to be proved.

I return to the parliamentary estate in Edinburgh. Will this be a physical presence chamber or will electronics be allowed in? Will we be taking the necessary steps to allow the members (or "commissioners" as I would call them) to participate from their constituencies on occasions? Alternatively, will we be insisting that the distant members have to leave home for parliamentary work on every occasion?

If I thought earlier that the Calton Hill site might be constrained by lack of space, that will ultimately be determined by the range of facilities that the parliament has. I do understand that this site includes the use of the old Scottish Office and the old GPO building. It is not just the range of offices and meeting rooms, it is also to do with the scale of the refreshment department--

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