Parliament and Politics: Cabinet agrees to 'beefed-up' role for Scottish MPs

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A BEEFED-UP Scottish Grand Committee and further administrative devolution to the Scottish Office - the upshot of John Major's 'taking stock' exercise - will be unveiled on Tuesday following agreement by the Cabinet yesterday.

The concessions to the clamour for constitutional change, together with possible switches of government jobs to Scotland and extra Scottish seats on the EC committee of the regions under the Maastricht treaty, will be denounced by Labour and the Liberal Democrats as cosmetic.

Right-wing Tories, meanwhile, are likely to protest that even these could cause instability, despite the Prime Minister's insistence that the stock-taking was meant to preserve, not to undermine, the Union.

Under the package of measures drawn up by Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, the 72 Scottish MPs who make up the Grand Committee will meet more often in Edinburgh, and take Scottish Questions, adjournment debates, oral statements and uncontroversial Bills. However, the Grand Committee question time will be an addition to, and not a replacement for, Commons questions. Contentious legislation would not be taken there either because the Government would not enjoy a majority.

Tom Clarke, Labour's Scottish affairs spokesman, said yesterday: 'Obviously we think it's tinkering with the problem and is not addressing the very strong views of the Scottish people. We have gone from taking stock to window- dressing.'

Labour's Dennis Canavan, the MP for Falkirk West, is to present a Commons Bill, officially supported by the party, for a multi- option referendum encompassing the status quo, a Scottish parliament within the United Kingdom (Labour's official line), and Scottish independence.

Labour yesterday ordered a shake-up in the running of local parties in the Monklands area of Lanarkshire, following an inquiry finding that the district council had left itself 'open to criticism' of nepotism in staff appointments. John Smith, the party leader, is the MP for Monklands East; Tom Clarke represents Monklands West.

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