Scottish MPs face boundaries review

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A review of parliamentary seats in Scotland could be ordered by the Government to answer criticism that the Scots will be over-represented at Westminster once they have their own Parliament.

A senior Cabinet source said that a review of parliamentary boundaries by the Boundary Commission could be called to answer the charge by critics of Scottish devolution, who include some Labour MPs.

The source said it was not necessary to cut the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster, but a review would be certain to raise questions about the numbers with constituencies north of the border. A review of the Westminster seats was carried out in the last Parliament and a fresh inquiry would risk reopening some old sores.

Ministers denied that the splits in the Cabinet committee on Scottish and Welsh devolution were as poisonous as some reports suggested, but the question of the powers for the Scottish Parliament is unlikely to be settled by the White Paper to be published next week.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who led the so-called English lobby against pressure to give the Scottish Parliament separate powers from the Westminster Parliament, hinted at the weekend that his group had won the argument.

Mr Straw, who is backed by Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, and Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, said the White Paper would show that the integrity of the Union had been preserved.

The ministerial group ruled out giving the Scottish Parliament its own power to decide on legal curbs in Scotland over abortion. It was feared this would lead to a cross-border traffic in women seeking abortion.

But there will be significant powers for the Scottish Parliament, including the right to express a view on the appointment of broadcasting bodies in Scotland. Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, said some of the judgements made by the ministerial team would be controversial. Yesterday he reassured businessmen that the Government's plans for devolution and a Scottish parliament would bring them benefits.

Addressing 90 business leaders at a breakfast meeting in Glasgow, Mr Dewar pledged: "With the Scottish Parliament there will be new opportunities and Scottish businesses will rise to that challenge. It will take advantage of the new opportunities offered by our clearer Scottish identity. And above all it will take advantage of the new opportunities to shape and influence policy by having a government closer to the Scottish people, and closer to Scottish businesses."

Andrew Cubie, chairman of CBI Scotland - which has been sceptical of devolution - said: "It is still our position that they must demonstrate real business benefits and opportunities rather than create additional costs and bureaucracy."

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party's leader, Alex Salmond, protested at reported plans by the Government to move the proposed Scottish Parliament to Edinburgh City Chambers instead of the Royal High School in the city.