Scottish Parliament
European Committee
Official Report
Meeting 2, 1999

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Col 44 summit. I hope that Scotland will benefit as a result of that. The convener's suggestion of making the secretary of state aware of our views and bringing him to one of our meetings would be a useful way to proceed.

On Jim's point on Community initiatives, I have a brief question on interregional co-operation. Is there any relative balance on that, in relation to transnational and cross-border issues? It will be important for us to maintain a transnational perspective.

Mr Millard: All we have so far are draft Commission proposals on how interregional co-operation initiatives might work. In fairness to the Commission, I can say that it has produced a reasonable mix. We—the Scottish Executive and the UK Government—will need to consider the proposals in arguing for the right balance, so that Scotland and the other constituent parts of the UK get a fair opportunity and fair access. INTERREG is sometimes a bit difficult for us, given our geographical position. To take an extreme example, it is easier in Luxembourg to co-operate with other member states than it is for people in Scotland.

The Convener: I am aware that, as we cut your presentation short, Jim, there are a number of critical issues about the future of the programmes to which we will need to return. Similarly, after we have taken evidence from some of the partner organisations in Scotland, we will have some comments to make, like those that David made, about the inadequacies of the current process, so there will be communication between us in future.

I suggest that we change the agenda: Owen Kelly from the Executive Secretariat will now discuss the role of Scotland House, and we will then cover item 3.

Scotland House

Mr Owen Kelly (Executive Secretariat, Scottish Executive): It is a great pleasure to be before the committee. I will start by explaining why I am here. I am head of the division that deals with the external relationships of the Executive. We are responsible for co-ordinating EU business. We are the sponsoring division in Edinburgh for Scotland House in Brussels. My division did the work on setting up Scotland House, so it might be useful to give members a feel for the process that we went through.

I will briefly talk about the context of the devolution settlement, about the rationale for Scotland House—why it is the way it is, and what some of the other options were—about the practicalities, and finally about how it might relate to the work of the committee.

Col 45 I will be very brief, as I do not want to bore members with things with which they are already familiar. It is important to recognise the context in which Scotland House will operate. Relations with the EU are reserved under the Scotland Act 1998, but it is fair to say that EU issues are unique in the way in which they are treated in the devolution settlement. They are theoretically reserved, but the UK Government has made it clear that it wants to involve the Scottish Executive and Parliament fully in EU decisions on devolved matters. I put "pre and post-decision" on the overhead slide as an important aspect is implementation, which is one of the most substantial responsibilities of this Parliament.

There will be a single negotiating line in council in Brussels. There will be a single UK member state. The UK responsible department will be in the lead, with Scottish ministers involved as appropriate. From the Executive's point of view, the relationship between Scotland and Whitehall is very important because the United Kingdom permanent representative to the European Union acts under instruction from the UK Government. It is important that we feed into the UK Government early on, so that Scotland's position is properly taken into account and mechanisms are put in place to reflect that.

The idea of Scotland House has been around since the white paper, "Scotland's Parliament", in which the possibility of a representative office in Brussels was specifically mentioned. Scottish Office ministers decided to go ahead and set it up so that it would be there for the Executive when it came into being. Staff in my division carried out the research. We had two people based in UKREP for about six months. They interviewed a wide range of players—members of the European Parliament, people in UKREP and on the Committee of the Regions, other regional representatives and so on. Their research was the basis on which we set up Scotland House.

What did all that tell us? We looked at some other options, which are fairly obvious, I suppose: the idea of having a desk in UKREP, or having something free-standing and entirely separate from UKREP. However, we decided that some key principles needed to be reflected. The most important was that the representative office had to be inclusive and a focus for as many Scottish interests in Brussels as possible. We were influenced partly by the success of Scotland Europa, which was in some ways the predecessor of Scotland House. Scotland Europa is the organisation that is sponsored and run by Scottish Enterprise. It is basically a subscriber organisation to which public and private sector organisations can subscribe. We were keen to take that model and move it on.

Col 46 From the Executive's point of view, we were keen that whatever was set up added value—that we were not duplicating work that was better done from Edinburgh by the responsible divisions back here dealing with fisheries or whatever. We did not want people to feel that Europe somehow was over there and that they no longer had to go to Brussels. Likewise, we had to be sensitive to the fact that UKREP is the formal voice for the UK in council and in dealings with other member states and with the institutions.

Before we had a building, in our more pretentious moments—and there are not many of them when one is a civil servant—we used to say that Scotland House was more of a concept than a place. I believe that it is important that it is a place in which all of Scottish civic society and the private sector can come together. I hope that it will be bigger than the sum of its parts. The Executive office, which is our bit of the place, is physically a small part. The larger part of Scotland House—physically and in terms of the number of bodies—consists of other organisations: Scotland Europa and its subscriber bodies. There are also a couple of Scandinavian regional representations in Scotland House, which approached Scotland Europa to be in the same place as Scotland. We welcomed that because of our interest in links with Nordic countries.

Scotland House is intended to be a focus for Scottish interests. From the Executive's point of view, we are riding two horses. We want to be a Government office and to be regarded as something official, but, equally, we want to be part of the larger whole. I suspect—I am being slightly speculative—that over time Scotland House will appear in different guises depending on who is looking and with whom they are talking.

As Scotland Enterprise was instrumental in identifying and obtaining the office, I can say that it is in a plum location. It is right in the middle of the key district in Brussels, opposite the Berlaymont. We can see on to the desks of people in UKREP, which might be useful. It is a good place from which to start.

I realise that none of these issues is as pressing as some of the matters that members have been talking about in relation to structural funds, but at some stage members will want to meet Donald MacInnes, the chief executive of Scotland Europa, to talk about its activities and the sort of things that he foresees happening.

Scotland House is a good place to start. It is something to be moulded by ministers, by this committee and by the Parliament. When we were setting it up, we were conscious that we could not prejudge the electoral outcome. We had to set up something that was flexible; I think that that is what we have now got.

Col 47 The Executive office is part of the Executive Secretariat, which has been set up at the centre of the Executive. One of the lessons from talking to other regional representations was that it was important to be seen by other players in Brussels to be plugged into the centre of the Administration. That explains why Scotland House is plugged into my division. We are also responsible for co-ordinating EU business generally.

It is important to recognise that the Scottish Executive part of Scotland House is not in the policy lead. For many years, the position has been that anybody who has an involvement in European policy does that themselves. Jim Millard, for example, deals with structural funds, works with Europe all the time and is expert at dealing with Brussels. The same is true of colleagues in fisheries, agriculture and the environment. Scotland House is intended to improve rather than replace that. It has been the main stream for a long time. We are all Europeans in that sense. Scotland House is there to facilitate, not to duplicate, the work that goes on. That is true both for us in the Executive and for UKREP.

Scotland House is a new, additional resource for us. We hope that it can support policy development in Scotland and that it can help with practicalities, such as attending meetings to which it is not cost-effective to send someone from here. An important function, which it is easy to discount, is the gathering of intelligence. As we already see, an enormous amount of information comes out of Brussels. It could be valuable to have an intelligence-gathering capacity, as we need to winnow out the things that will be of interest.

We need to stay close to UKREP, which is the voice of the member state. We will have a hot desk in UKREP that can be used by our staff. That is important as it means that we can plug into its information and distribution systems, and it will be helpful for UKREP, too.

Finally, Scotland House will have a domestic role in providing support for people visiting from the Executive or from other organisations in Scotland.

12:15

I will now wind up—I am conscious of the time, convener. The structure of Scotland House gives this committee two—and probably more—opportunities to use it. Scotland Europa and the Scottish Executive office are distinct but make up a whole. The committee has a way, through Scotland Europa and, perhaps to a lesser extent, through our office, to plug into quite a wide range of Scottish interests in Brussels.

We are there to help. I hope that if any committee members are in Brussels they will feel 

Col 48 free to drop in or to ask us to assist in any way we can. Obviously, we have to be conscious that we are servants of ministers. That is a line that I would not wish to make too much of, but there might be occasions when we have to consider carefully ministers' views.

I hope that committee members will go to the minister as the contact for policy issues. As Stephen suggested, it might be an idea in these early days to route communications through him, but if members have questions about the practicalities of Brussels or about things that they want done which are done more easily by someone there, they should feel free to contact Scotland House in Brussels. We will do what we can to help.

The Convener: Thank you very much, Owen. We always get good value from the Executive Secretariat: as well as an explanation on the role of Scotland House, we have had an introduction to philosophy. Is Scotland House a concept or a place? Unfortunately, we do not have the time to resolve that one.

You touched on a point at the end, Owen. It forms part of my learning process and, I am sure, that of other members who have come from a local government background. I still find it hard to get my mind round the concept of the split of the Executive as servants of the Scottish Ministers rather than of the whole Parliament. For me, that raises the issue of accountability.

Ms MacDonald: That is right.

The Convener: It will take me some time to understand where that concept came from. I hope that we have not just mirrored the Westminster model and that, not just in this committee but in others, we will start, over the next few years, to examine how civil servants are responsible and accountable to the whole Parliament, rather than to a particular minister. But that is not for you to resolve, Owen.

Mr Kelly: I think that that is a question for ministers.

The Convener: It is not for you. I certainly do not want to blight your career opportunities at this stage.

I will now open up the discussion on Scotland House.

Ms MacDonald: I should like some factual information. Owen mentioned some Scandinavian countries. Which ones, and are they regions or countries?

Mr Kelly: They are regions.

Ms MacDonald: Which regions, please?

Mr Kelly: One is of Finland and one is of 

Col 49 Sweden. Oulu, I think, is one, but I cannot remember the other.

Dennis Canavan: Ostrobothnia.

Mr Kelly: That is right, yes.

The Convener: Dennis is fluent in it.

Mr Kelly: There has also, I think, been an approach from a region of Poland, but that has not yet been resolved.

Dr Sylvia Jackson: May I ask more about the Scottish Executive office? Owen mentioned intelligence gathering. We have talked about early warning: is that a role that the office could have? If there is a broader role, could Owen tell us more about it?

Mr Kelly: The office could play a role, but I would not want to overstate it. In general terms, the best information flow that this committee and the subject-based committees will get from the Executive will be through people such as Jim who deal with the issues all the time and talk to people in the Commission. They are more likely to hear about specific matters and policy areas than Scotland House. I am not saying that Scotland House will not hear about them. A lot of information goes round in Brussels. Much of it is gossip, but quite important things can sometimes emerge that we get to hear about.

I do see intelligence gathering as a role, but the important thing is that there are people at Scotland House who can see what is important. That is why, in staffing it, we are keen that people should go there for two or three years, bringing with them knowledge of the Executive and of the way in which the Government works in Scotland, so that they can spot the important things and the things that need to be referred back.

Dr Winnie Ewing: Following the combining of Scotland Europa and Scotland House, are all the tenants that Scotland Europa recruited still there?

Mr Kelly: Yes, they all went there. They were all very enthusiastic to go when we moved location.

Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): What are the roles of the MEPs? We have not talked about the relationship between ourselves and the Scottish members of the European Parliament. It is perhaps not an appropriate matter to bring up when we are discussing Scotland House, but it seems to be something to debate.

The Convener: I hope that we can arrange a meeting with our MEPs at some point in the future and also arrange a liaison mechanism. To return to the point that Winnie made earlier about how we influence the process, we need to use our MEPs to best effect—we need to examine that.


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Scottish Parliament 1999
Prepared 18 August 1999