Forsyth admits plans for Scots' parliament

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Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, dramatically revealed last night that he had considered setting up a Scottish parliament - but had rejected the idea for practical reasons.

He made the disclosure in a BBC2 Scottish Lobby programme, to be broadcast tomorrow, but said the creation of such a body could not solve the so- called "West Lothian" question - why Scottish MPs should have a vote on English affairs but not the other way around.

John Major's alternative plans for Scottish democratic reform will be no substitute for a Scottish parliament, opposition parties insisted yesterday. There were indications, however, that the Scottish Grand Committee could be given new powers to debate, amend and vote on contentious Scottish legislation and to conduct the committee stage of Bills, despite the heavy Labour domination of the body.

At present, the committee, comprising all Scotland's 72 MPs, meets regularly north of the border and in Westminster to debate legislation before they go into committee stage.

Mr Forsyth said yesterday: "I cannot reveal the details but what we are talking about here is ensuring we have more scrutiny of Scottish affairs and that ministers are held to account."

George Robertson, Labour's spokesman on Scottish affairs, criticised a "panicky but well-packaged PR stunt." He said: "If I thought it was going to give real decisive power to Scottish MPs over Scottish legislation, then I think we would take it seriously. But it seems to be little more than a cosmetic operation."

The unveiling of the initiative on Wednesday week, St Andrew's Day, clashes with the launch of the Labour and Liberal Democrat-supported Scottish Constitutional Convention blueprint for a Scottish parliament.

Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "Further Tory tinkering is no substitute for a Scottish parliament ... The Tories are responding to the agenda set by the Constitutional Convention. The difference is that our plan for a Scottish parliament has the real interests of the people of Scotland at their heart."

But while the Government would retain the right of the House of Commons to have the final say on Scottish Bills at Third Reading, it would be under strong political pressure not to use the Westminster parliament to unravel amendments. It often opts not to reverse House of Lords amendments in the Commons. The pressure to adopt a similar approach to Scottish affairs would be greater, because the Grand Committee is composed of elected representatives.