UK Ministers criticised after string of Holyrood Committee no-shows

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
The UK coalition has been accused of showing a lack of respect towards the Scottish Parliament after it emerged an increasing number of cabinet ministers were refusing to appear in front of Holyrood Committees.
 
Last week UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson became the latest minister to dodge scrutiny from MSPs after he cancelled his scheduled appearance at the Scottish Parliament.

The Conservative MP for North Shropshire was due to attend the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee session where it was expected that he would be asked to further explain the low levels of radioactivity detected at Dounreay, Caithness, in January 2012.

Mr Paterson joins a string of UK Ministers who have refused to give evidence to MSPs.

  • In December 2011, then Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman turned down an invitation to appear in front of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.
  • In January 2012, then Scottish Secretary Michael Moore refused to attend European and External Relations Committee. The Committee was offered David Mundell in his place who then postponed his appearance.
  • Repeated invitations from July 2012 onwards to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud and Minister for Employment Esther McVey have all been turned down.
  • In May 2013, Owen Paterson was due to appear in front of the Committee, but cancelled despite his role in representing Scotland at CAP negotiations that were ongoing at the time.
  • Finance – Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander cancelled his appearance in front of the Finance Committee in May 2013 for the second time – leading to the entire meeting being cancelled.
  • In June 2013 Paterson eventually gave evidence – the only time an Environment Secretary has appeared before the Scottish Parliament despite their role representing Scotland – but in March 2014 a second scheduled appearance by Mr Paterson was cancelled.

In recent days after details of a radiation leak at Dounreay emerged, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson cancelled his appearance in front of a committee citing the need for him to attend a vote that didn’t in fact take place.

Meanwhile Employment Minister Esther McVey flatly refused to appear in front of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee – just as Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, the architects of Westminster’s welfare cuts have also repeatedly refused to appear in public.

In contrast, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Finance Secretary John Swinney, Transport Minister Keith Brown and Housing Minister Margaret Burgess have all appeared in front of Westminster committees in the last eighteen months.

  • On 11 December 2012 John Swinney gave evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee
  • On 28 January 2013 the Deputy First Minister gave evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
  • On 2 July 2013 Keith Brown gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee
  • On 10 March 2014 Margaret Burgess gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee

Commenting, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said:

“For too many Westminster Government ministers it has clearly become acceptable to postpone, cancel and refuse to attend appearances in front of Holyrood’s Committees.

“That is not on and simply highlights Westminster’s determination not to be accountable to people in Scotland. Whenever there are difficult questions to answer, it seems you can guarantee the relevant UK Minister will be running scared.

“Despite the huge impact that Westminster’s welfare cuts are having in Scotland, the relevant Ministers simply refuse invitation after invitation to give evidence and try to justify what they are doing to people in Scotland.”

Just days after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron stated “I want a real agenda of respect between our parliaments. I want to see Scottish ministers able to appear in front of select committees in Westminster and I believe that, if the Scottish Parliament would wish it, I would appear every year at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions.”

Since making the statement in 2010, Mr Cameron has not returned to the Scottish Parliament and more and more of his ministers have dodged Holyrood’s Committees. 

Mr Hepburn added: “That is incredibly disrespectful, not just to the Scottish Parliament but more importantly to the tens of thousands of people in Scotland struggling to cope with Westminster’s welfare cuts.”