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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I wonder whether, after the debate, the noble Lord might like to consult his right honourable and honourable friends at the Scottish Office--some of them at least--who, since the referendum result, have gone out of their way to express the hope that the Conservative Party will engage positively in this debate and accept the result of the referendum. Being a democratic party, we have done the latter, and we are now doing the former. I should have thought that the noble Lord would warmly welcome that. Certainly, I hope his honourable friends will do so.
It may help your Lordships if I set out briefly the background to the issue of where the parliament is to be sited, the latest position and our proposed next steps. In the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament, which was published during the summer, we announced that the parliament would be located in Edinburgh. The point has been made by noble Lords that any idea of not locating it in Edinburgh is now out of court. Edinburgh is the natural centre of government in Scotland and therefore the fitting home for the parliament. We also announced that we would be considering various options for a suitable site for the parliament building. That has not been seriously challenged. It is quite proper to look at a range of possible options.
Many people understandably assumed that the Old Royal High School building on Calton Hill would be the automatic choice for the site. As I say, that is perfectly understandable given that it was prepared for a similar purpose, to house a parliament in the 1970s. During the wasted years of the previous Administration, it remained a symbol of hope in Scotland. Clearly, there is great sentimental attachment to it in the hearts of the people of Scotland. However, time has moved on since then, in much the same way as our vision of a parliament has evolved.
We want the new parliament to be accessible to the public, both in terms of physical accessibility and also in terms of making the workings and activities of the parliament accessible. Making the best use of modern
The old Royal High School building, I am bound to say, is severely disadvantaged in these respects. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, drew our attention to some of the disadvantages. In particular it is unsuitable at present as a permanent home for the parliament and lacks the flexibility needed for successful conversion. The noble and learned Lord made the point that once one starts trying to convert it in order to make it suitable, one loses the whole ethos, charm and grandeur of the place.
Of course, this is not to say that we have discounted the area around the old Royal High School or, indeed, its possible use as part of a wider development. My right honourable friend has considered many sites in and around Edinburgh, and these have now been narrowed down to three leading sites, to which many noble Lords have referred. First, a development centred on Regent Road, which would probably involve making use of St. Andrew's House, the headquarters of the Scottish Office since the 1930s, and its rather lavatorial interior. This has been put forward by Edinburgh Development and Investment. Secondly, a site at Leith near to the new Scottish Office building at Victoria Quay has been proposed by Forth Ports Plc. A third site at Haymarket is proposed for development by Kantel MacDonald Orr.
My right honourable friend has already received presentations detailing the proposals for the sites at Calton Hill and Leith. Officials have met with those promoting the Haymarket site and a presentation is scheduled for later this month about the Haymarket proposals. The main opposition parties in Scotland have been briefed on progress to date and my right honourable friend has undertaken to keep them informed as developments progress. I am sure we can progress this issue in that bipartisan and non-partisan way.
It is clear from the information we have received that each site presents both advantages and disadvantages. There is not one clear runner where all the advantages stack up on one side. We are, of course, aware that public opinion, expressed in letters to my right honourable friend and to the Scottish newspapers, is very much in favour of siting the parliament in the city centre, most probably on Calton Hill. Equally, there are important questions to answer in terms of the feasibility, within acceptable costs, of converting historic buildings, the point that was alluded to, although in part dismissed, by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. Once one gets into an old building one does know what one is going to find and what will be the costs involved in conversion and rectification.
The sites at Leith and Haymarket are both cleared and would therefore enable a new building to be constructed. As a number of noble Lords indicated, the Haymarket site is rather more constrained than Leith and it might be more costly but it has good rail and bus links, in particular to west and northern Scotland. That is why my right honourable friend also wishes to look at options for building an entirely new building, purpose built to house the parliament.
There are many other factors to consider and my right honourable friend has therefore decided to seek more detailed information before making any decision about the eventual site. Noble Lords will be aware that an announcement was made last week in the other place that design feasibility studies on each of the three sites have been commissioned. These studies, which will be carried out by separate architectural practices, will be subject to independent comparative costings.
The cost of the parliament building is clearly a key factor. It is essential that we achieve value for money. The White Paper acknowledged that it was not possible to say precisely how much the parliament building would cost until the location and the nature of the parliament was settled and until the most suitable funding option was chosen. In the White Paper we identify a budget of about £40 million. We have to bear that in mind when we make the final selection.
We hope to stick to that estimate but, based on the information which we have for the three different sites, the costs do vary quite considerably. There is also some variation between some of our own estimates and those of the organisations promoting the various sites. This, in part at least, reflects the different assumptions which are being used. By commissioning the design studies we will be given a more accurate view, in particular as to whether the proposals put forward are feasible. Subjecting the feasibilities to independent scrutiny of the costs will also provide us with a clearer indication of the final costs. The choice of site for the parliament has environmental impacts and, certainly today, when sustainability and the environment are key issues, they cannot be put to one side.
We are committed to putting the environment at the heart of government and we expect the building itself should make as small an environmental impact as possible. The environmental impacts of the decision fall under two main headings--the impact of the building itself, and the effect of its location. On the first of these, different buildings will have different total energy use and energy efficiency, and they will have varying effects in terms of the amount of material used in their construction.
On the second point, people will obviously need to come and go to the parliament building wherever it is situated. That is the point of physical accessibility, as a number of noble Lords have said. That will have implications for the transport system and also for air pollution, which is now one of the most pressing problems on the environmental agenda. All these studies
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, that is an absolutely critical question and it is one that I asked as well. If it is really uncertain, that makes a difference. The people of Scotland must be involved here. It is absolutely no good confronting them with a final decision without publishing the report. That is very important indeed.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, the basis on which the Government make any decision will be subject to scrutiny and debate and, quite properly, questions can be asked at that time. We shall have to see the extent to which, at the end of the studies, information can be made broadly available. I take the point that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, have made. I shall return to that issue subsequently. I can give an assurance at this stage--and not 10 seconds ago!--that we shall be in a position to publish at least a summary. So the basis on which the decision is made will be available.
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