HC Deb 15 February 1978 vol 944 cc417-8
7. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, which organisations and how many individuals have made representations to him in favour of a first-past-the-post electoral system for the Scottish Assembly.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

None, Sir.

Mr. Knox

Does the Minister agree that a first-past-the-post electoral system would be very unfair for the Assembly in view of the present political climate in Scotland? Will he use his influence with his colleagues in the Government to try to get them to amend the Scotland Bill so that there is a system of proportional representation for the election?

Mr. Ewing

This matter was debated by the House during the passage of the Scotland Bill. The Government gave a free vote to Labour Members, and the House decided by an overwhelming majority that PR was not acceptable and that a first-past-the-post system should prevail.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Minister aware that that is a very inadequate answer? Is he also aware that his answer to the hon. Gentleman indicates that the Government's failure to consider electoral reform as part of a devolutionary settlement was a profoundly reactionary thing to do? Does he agree that the result is quite grossly distorted and unrepresentative, and that many feel that the responsibility will be wholly that of the Government?

Mr. Ewing

I do not accept that the answer is inadequate. Any Minister recounting word for word what happens in Parliament cannot be accused of giving an inadequate answer. There is not much that I can say except that the House decided by an overwhelming majority not to accept proportional representation.

On the question whether we should have proportional representation, the Government received representations from six organisations and 14 individuals— hardly an overwhelming approach for proportional representation. But the one thing that I accept—I say this with respect to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston)—is that it is a subject that will continue to be on the agenda. I do not think that there is any doubt about that.

Mr. Buchan

Does the Minister agree that it is a deplorable contempt of the House to suggest that an answer based upon a decision of the House is an inadequate answer? It is rather surprising, coming from the Liberal Party.

Mr. Ewing

I have already dealt with that point.