Scottish Affairs Committee future in doubt

DISCUSSIONS have taken place to abolish the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster to prevent it from becoming a power base for the SNP.

DISCUSSIONS have taken place to abolish the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster to prevent it from becoming a power base for the SNP.

Scotland on Sunday has learned that the Conservatives and Labour have considered scrapping the powerful select committee following the SNP’s election victory, in which they won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.

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The replacement could be a select committee for the nations and regions of the UK which would also take in the current Welsh and Northern Irish committees.

It follows demands by the Nationalists that the rules be changed to give them a majority on the committee to reflect their election victory last week.

Currently, under strict Commons rules, the committees have to reflect the balance of the parties across parliament, which means that the Tories as the government party would have the majority of members, Labour as the official opposition would have three, while the SNP as the third party would get just one.

One senior figure told this paper there is now no need for the committee.

He said: “Basically, it is very difficult to have a Scottish Affairs Committee where almost all the members represent English seats and if we change the rules it will just become a platform for the SNP.”

In the last parliament the rules were changed to allow the SNP to have one member of the committee – Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford – but she boycotted the committee after a dispute with the then Labour chairman Ian Davidson, who has since lost his Glasgow South West seat.

With no SNP member, the committee became a focus of attacks on the Yes Scotland campaign before the independence referendum, particularly on issues such as currency and defence.

But it is understood that the SNP are lining up Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart as the new chairman of the committee, which would be one of the two they would be entitled to chair.

Wishart refused to comment on any such move but said that abolishing the committee would be “a disgrace”.

He said: “It would be complete hypocrisy of the unionist parties to do that. They didn’t mind it being used as a platform for attacks on independence in the last parliament.

“If there is a Secretary of State for Scotland still, then he has to be held properly to account, so I am not even sure if they can abolish the committee.”

New Scottish Secretary David Mundell said such a move would be “very difficult”.

He said: “I know some people are very keen we should get rid of the committee but I think if we were to do that and set up a new committee for the nations and regions, it would require a vote of the House. We could not simply submit a new list to parliament.”

He added: “Personally, I am very relaxed about it. I am quite used to dealing with a Scottish Affairs Committee which has an anti-Conservative majority.”

In the previous parliament, the Liberal Democrats chaired two committees and these are likely to pass to the SNP, with Scottish Affairs as one of them.

It is understood the SNP will not want to take part in committees that affect only England, and they will not be allowed to chair the Treasury Committee, which goes to the Tories as the governing party, or the Public Accounts Committee, which goes to Labour as the official Opposition.