Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, yesterday unveiled his vision of "limited, sensible" devolution in the heart of Labour's proposed Scottish parliament.
Mr Forsyth chose New Parliament House, in Edinburgh, the building Tony Blair has earmarked for a Scottish assembly, as the venue for the first- ever Scottish Question Time to be held outside Westminster. In the chamber Mr Forsyth answered opposition questions at a meeting of the Commons Grand Committee of Scottish MPs.
The move is part of Mr Forsyth's policy of increasing the powers of the committee. Two months ago he gave its members the right to conduct the second and third readings of uncontentious Bills and to summon senior ministers to face questions on government policy.
Mr Forsyth hopes the beefed-up committee, plus the recent transfer of powers from the Scottish Office to Scotland's 29 new unitary local authorities, will blunt Labour's arguments for a tax-raising Edinburgh assembly. John Major and Kenneth Clarke will appear before the committee this spring.
The public gallery yesterday heard Mr Forsyth fend off Labour and nationalist claims that he had turned a blind eye to the problems caused by the Christmas blizzards. He agreed with Labour members that "idiotic" attempts by the Tory backbencher John Butterfill to introduce Central European Time in the UK should be defeated. And he announced his intention to launch a "crusade" against drug abuse.
While the Tory, SNP and Liberal Democrat benches were full, less than half Scotland's 49 Labour MPs attended the session, in a chamber where many will be expected to sit if Labour wins the next general election.
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