§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
I beg to move amendment No. 44, in page 18, line 11, leave out from `be' to end of line 13 and insert`elected by the members of the Parliament'.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 254, in page 18, leave out lines 19 to 27.
No. 313, in clause 43, page 18, line 36, leave out 'or'.
No. 275, in page 18, line 38, at end insert'or—No. 76, in clause 44, page 19, line 9, leave out
- (e) the First Minister being admitted to a hospital under the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, becoming subject to a guardianship order or having a curator bonis appointed on his estate'.`with the approval of Her Majesty'.No. 276, in page 19, line 10, after 'appoint', insert`up to a total of ten'.No. 277, in page 19, leave out lines 11 and 12.
No. 87, in page 19, line 11, leave out`seek Her Majesty's approval for'and insert 'make'.
No. 88, in page 19, leave out line 14.
No. 89, in clause 46, page 19, line 32, leave out`with the approval of Her Majesty'.No. 75, in page 19, line 35, at end insert—'(2A) The First Minister shall not make any appointment under this section without the agreement of the Parliament.'.186 No. 90, in page 19, leave out line 37.
§ Mr. Canavan
I shall speak to amendment No. 44 and the other amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). Amendments Nos. 44, 76 and 75 are substantive and the others are consequential.
Amendment No. 44 proposes that the First Minister should be elected by Members of the Scottish Parliament rather than being appointed by the Queen and holding office at Her Majesty's pleasure. As the First Minister will be primus in paribus, or first among equals, it is more appropriate that he or she is elected by his or her parliamentary colleagues than appointed by the Crown.
In the early stages of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, members of the convention signed a document referring to the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. It seems to me that the concepts of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland and of the sovereignty of a monarch are mutually exclusive. The amendments propose that, if the First Minister is not directly elected by the people of Scotland, he or she should be elected by the people's representatives in the Scottish Parliament.
I dare say that Opposition Members, and perhaps the Minister, will argue that the role of the monarchy is a mere formality in respect of the governance of the country or the countries that used to be part of the British empire. However, not all that long ago a Labour Prime Minister was ousted from his job in Australia because of the interference of the Governor-General, the Queen's representative.
In 1974, there were two general elections, and the first resulted in a hung parliament. No party had an overall majority in Parliament, and Harold Wilson was the leader of the party with the largest number of Members. However, the Queen did not call Harold Wilson to the palace. In fact, she called the defeated Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), to the palace and asked him to cobble up some kind of coalition agreement with Jeremy Thorpe, the then leader of the Liberal party. There was a long hiatus in which, in effect, there was no Government. Harold Wilson, who was the leader of the biggest party, had to wait in the wings until he was called to the palace to form a Government.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument and I am sure that he would not want there to be any inaccuracy. He will also agree that Jeremy Thorpe and his Liberal colleagues showed good sense by not supporting Edward Heath. Is not the point that Edward Heath had the advantage of incumbency—
§ The Chairman
Order. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that he is referring to a right hon. Member.
§ Mr. Wallace
I apologise, Sir Alan. I was speaking from a sense of history, as I was just a boy at the time. It was actually my first vote.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was the incumbent Prime Minister at the time, so it was not a matter of the Queen sending for him. He had to tender his resignation. I am sure that even the 187 hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) would have thought it an abuse if the sovereign had summoned the Prime Minister and demanded his resignation.
§ Mr. Canavan
That is exactly what the Queen should have done after the February 1974 general election. Whatever the will of the British people, as expressed at the ballot box, it was quite clear that they no longer wanted the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup to be their Prime Minister. The Queen should have summoned him to the palace and sacked him and then called Harold Wilson, but for reasons best known to herself, she did not do that. Sometimes I wonder about the so-called neutral role of the monarchy in respect of politics.
§ Ms Roseanna Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman will know that I am very much in favour of reducing the work load of the monarch—preferably to zero. I was interested to hear the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I do not know whether he knows what happened in Australia, but in contradiction to his point about 1974—which may be true, but I do not know as I was not here at the time—when the Australian Labour Government were sacked and a general election was called, the Liberals, or the Tories, were appointed in the interim and therefore were in government throughout the election. That is an interesting point as it illustrates the other side of the coin from that referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I agree with the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) about the monarch's neutrality, which remains to be proved.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention as it shows the inconsistency of the monarchy or its representatives when they take a role in the running of Governments or Parliaments.
We have to bear in mind too that, if the political pundits are correct, there will be a much greater probability of a hung Parliament in the Scottish Parliament because of the system of proportional representation. The amendments would minimise—in fact remove—the possibility of any interference by the monarchy as to who should be the First Minister and form the Government.
My amendments Nos. 76 and 75 propose that Parliament's agreement should be required in appointing not only the First Minister but other Ministers and that there should be no role for the monarchy in appointing other Ministers or junior Ministers.
Another anomaly in the Bill is that, under clause 46, the First Minister would require Parliament's agreement before seeking the Crown's approval of the appointment of a Minister, whereas the First Minister could appoint junior Ministers without seeking Parliament's approval. I think that that would be a bad thing and that all ministerial appointments should be subject to Parliament's approval. A Scottish Parliament should not simply ape the patronage system of this place, where the power of patronage is widely open to abuse. As I had started to say, the Crown is the very pinnacle of the patronage system, although in practice the Prime Minister exercises many of those powers.
We have witnessed many examples—and are perhaps witnessing current examples—of appointments that are made without any reference to Parliament or much democratic accountability. We must remember that the 188 First Minister of Scotland will have tremendous patronage powers, because, presumably, he or she will inherit all the patronage powers currently held by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is responsible for hundreds of public appointments across Scotland. We are talking not about the appointment of a mere coterie of Scottish Cabinet members and junior Ministers but about patronage over hundreds of public positions across Scotland.
We should make the First Minister and the First Minister's ministerial colleagues as accountable as possible to the people of Scotland through elected representatives.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am very sympathetic to many of the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. However, it seems that clause 43 is something of an advance on the current situation at Westminster, where someone is to be called to the palace—presumably the head of the leading party in the general election. The clause states that the Scottish Parliament willnominate one of its members for appointment as First Minister.That seems to go part of the way towards achieving the more satisfactory situation that the hon. Gentleman outlined, and away from the process of mystification that we could have in this place if there were a hung Parliament.
§ Mr. Canavan
I agree that the Bill proposes a ministerial appointment system that is better than our current system at Westminster, where Ministers can be appointed without any reference to Parliament. We once had a rule in the parliamentary Labour party that, if someone was an elected member of the shadow Cabinet, he or she would automatically become a Cabinet member when Labour was elected to government. In at least two cases that I know of, that did not happen after 1 May. Furthermore, I know of at least one Minister whose appointment might not have been accepted had it required parliamentary approval. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] I forget his constituency, but I believe that he has something to do with the millennium dome. [Interruption.] Yes, he is the Minister for the dome.
§ Mr. Canavan
I have it switched off.
As I said, the two concepts of sovereignty of the people and sovereignty of the monarch are mutually exclusive. If we really believe in sovereignty of the people, Members of the Scottish Parliament should—as proposed—be elected by the people and accountable to the people. Similarly, Ministers should be elected by the elected representatives of the people. In that way, the Scottish Government or the Scottish Executive would be more accountable to the people of Scotland.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
I am rather sorry that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore)—who said that Labour Members are clones—was not in the Chamber to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). It is nice to know that he still shops for his speeches at Republicans—'R—Us, adding a bit of colour to the Labour Benches.
189 I shall speak to amendment No. 275, which deals with the important issue of the mental health of Members of Parliament, which is not a laughing matter but a serious issue that is important both for Members of Parliament and for the protection of their electorate—to ensure that representation of the electorate is maintained.
§ Dr. Fox
The Minister is asking me to give a professional opinion, which I do not think I want to stray into right now.
I wonder how many hon. Members realise that the Mental Health Act 1983 has special provisions for section orders for Members of Parliament. Should, for example, an hon. Member fall ill with a mental health problem, a complex procedure will come into play. First, the doctor signing a section order or the person who is in charge of the hospital where the Member is detained will notify the Speaker. Secondly, the Speaker will appoint someone from the Royal College of Psychiatrists to look after the Member. If that Member is still detained under a section order after six months, the seat will become vacant.
I do not know why there should be such a provision for hon. Members in this place, but not for those in the Scottish Parliament. I think that Ministers have simply overlooked the matter, and I look forward to the Minister bringing the Scottish Parliament into line on that point. It is quite a serious and important matter, which should not be belittled.
§ Dr. Lynda Clark
Could the hon. Gentleman advise the Committee of the number of occasions when that provision has been used?
§ Dr. Fox
I do not think that it matters whether it has been used: the provision is there to protect the electorate should a Member of Parliament be absent for six months and unable to represent his or her constituents. One would hope that the provision would never have to be used and that hon. Members do not suffer in that way, but it is there to protect the electorate. It is, therefore, important.
In tabling amendment No. 276, we wanted to examine a different aspect of the Bill. Our amendment would limit the size of the Scottish Executive. "Erskine May", for example, limits the Prime Minister's freedom of manoeuvre in establishing the number of places in his Cabinet, yet this Bill places no limitation on the size of the Scottish Executive. The Bill provides for an unspecified number of Ministers plus an unspecified number of junior Ministers. The Scottish Office is currently run by the Secretary of State and five Ministers. One would not wish a situation to arise—which has occurred elsewhere—in which the number of Ministers was increased simply to keep Members quiet, by appointing more of them as Ministers. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West dealt with the matter of patronage in his speech.
When I was at the Foreign Office—although I do not suggest that it might happen in the Scottish Parliament—one of the Governments whom I dealt with was the Government of Nepal. As the coalition Government started to crumble, one side of the Parliament consisted of 130 Members, of whom 85 were Ministers. I see the hon. Member for Falkirk, West smiling—perhaps because 190 he foresees the possible bonanza. However, it will happen only at the taxpayers' expense. If we are to avoid "jobs for the boys" gibes, we shall have to ensure that we are not writing a blank cheque for Members of the Scottish Parliament or giving unlimited powers of patronage to the First Minister.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)
Not content with limiting the powers of a Scottish Parliament, the Tories want to limit the number of Scottish Ministers to fewer than those in a football team—and for ever more. Surely the size and shape of the Scottish Cabinet is up to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. It is again clear that the Tories have no trust or faith in the Scottish people or their democracy.
§ Dr. Fox
Quite the reverse—the issue is about having less faith in politicians than in the people. We are concerned with the ability of politicians to rein themselves in when offered a blank cheque. We have tabled the amendments from the point of view of protecting the electorate from politicians. When the people of Scotland voted in large numbers in favour of the proposals in the referendum, I do not think that they ever wanted to give such a blank cheque to the Parliament or for there to be an unspecified number of Ministers.
Given that in this House Ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister, and that the First Minister will have to have the Scottish Parliament's approval, it would be excessive to stipulate that all Ministers had to be approved by the Scottish Parliament. To introduce an American style of approval of Ministers, such as that welcomed by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West, would be excessive control over the First Minister's freedom. Such control does not apply in Westminster, and the case has not been made for it to apply in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that the Minister will reconsider.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
I shall speak in support of the amendments tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). The amendments would delete the following phrases:appointed by Her Majesty from among the members of the Parliament and shall hold office at Her Majesty's pleasure",with the approval of Her Majesty"—in clauses 44 and 46—seek Her Majesty's approval",andshall hold office at Her Majesty's pleasure".in clauses 44 and 46.
I would not want the group of amendments to be represented as an attack on either Her Majesty or the monarchy. That would be a misreading of the intent behind them. It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West and I hold certain views about the legitimacy of an hereditary institution exercising what should be democratic power in a democratic society. I for one have never understood those who argue for modernising the British constitution and who speak about sweeping away powers of hereditary peers, while at the same time talking about entrenching the powers of an hereditary monarch.
191 I very much take to heart my hon. Friend's arguments, particularly those on the 1974 election and what happened to Gough Whitlam in Australia. The future role of the monarchy is not at the heart of the amendments. The amendments focus on the Scottish Parliament's right democratically to elect Ministers who will hold office in the Scottish Government after 1999.
The Bill technically says that the First Minister shall be appointed by Her Majesty and hold office at Her Majesty's approval. We know that that is a constitutional fiction. We know that the Queen will not in fact appoint anybody in the Scottish Parliament. She will do so only on the advice of the British Prime Minister and the British Cabinet of the day. We are really talking about the right of the United Kingdom Government and Cabinet to appoint the First Minister, other Ministers and junior Ministers in a Scottish Parliament. Without the approval of the UK Cabinet, that could not go ahead—otherwise, the provision would not be in the Bill. Even the right to hold office is contingent on the continuing approval of the British Government and Cabinet.
There is danger in such a system. The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said in an earlier debate that we cannot always assume that the British Cabinet will be in sympathy with the Scottish Parliament and necessarily want it to stand on its own feet, as the Minister would like.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument most closely. He seems to be making a case for a separate Scottish Head of State. If that is so, why is he sitting on the Government Benches and not with the Scottish nationalists?
§ Mr. McAllion
I do not think that I have referred to the Head of State. My opinion on the Head of State—which I presume the hon. Gentleman seriously wants to hear, or he would not have asked—is that the Queen could do a lot worse than put herself forward for a referendum to endorse whether she should be the Head of State. The legitimacy of the Queen's role will always be questioned as long as she does not subject herself to the consent of the people.
If I were a monarchist—which I am not—I would be arguing for the Queen to call a referendum on her role in the British constitution. If, in such a referendum, she received the endorsement of a huge majority, as everybody says she would, I am sure that that would improve her situation. Others of us would also like a referendum so that we could vote for the kind of Head of State we wanted. It is not a matter of treason to want a democratically elected Head of State—although, judging from the Tories' comments, it would sometimes seem so.
The heart of the problem is the relationship between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. All the phrases—which the amendments would delete—mean this: the Scottish Parliament would be allowed to appoint its own Ministers only so long as they met with the approval of the Westminster Parliament and Government. That lies at the heart of my objections.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
I think that the clauses about which the hon. Gentleman is complaining mean the complete opposite of what he is saying. The very reason why it is stipulated that the Scottish First 192 Minister will hold office at Her Majesty's pleasure is that that asserts absolutely and categorically that he has a direct link with the sovereign, which cannot be overridden by the United Kingdom Prime Minister in devolved matters. That is an essential protection under our present constitutional arrangements.
§ Mr. McAllion
The hon. Gentleman is arguing as if the Queen had real constitutional powers. We have always been told that, of course, she does not have any real powers, because all constitutional power is exercised on the advice of the British Prime Minister. She would not dare to do anything on her own that a British Prime Minister would not allow her to do. Now, all of a sudden, the argument is very different. The hon. Gentleman is saying, "Yes, the Queen does have constitutional powers." He is agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West, who is concerned about the powers that an unelected monarchy exercises in the British constitution. I am increasingly concerned about the hon. Gentleman's tone and the way in which the argument is developing.
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
The hon. Gentleman needs to consider the implications of what he is saying. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) suggested, it matters not whether in practical terms the Head of State uses the power, but it matters from where the power is derived. The practical exercise of power and the source of power are two quite different things. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the clauses.
§ Mr. McAllion
The hon. Gentleman, who goes to Scotland on holiday only occasionally, also totally misunderstands the situation. I will tell him where the source of the power of appointment in a Scottish Parliament is. It is the people who elect that Scottish Parliament. There is no need for any reference to the United Kingdom Government, Cabinet or heir to the Head of State. A Scottish Parliament will be democratically legitimate because it will be elected by the Scottish people; it should be allowed freely to appoint its Ministers. That is the bottom line for those of us who agree with the Claim of Right and who believe that sovereignty rests with the people and not with the institution in Westminster.
Worse than that, throughout the debates, there has been a tension between the UK Parliament wanting to keep control and a leash on what the Scottish Parliament might do, and those of us who want the Scottish Parliament to get on with the job of governing Scotland's domestic affairs free from interference, control and any dependence on the British Parliament.
§ Mr. McAllion
The Tories have a blanket approach to this debate. They envisage only two possibilities: either there is a toy town Parliament that is under the control of the British Parliament, or there is independence. They say that time and again, but they are wrong. There is a middle position, in which sovereignty is shared between the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments. The Scottish Parliament does not need to seek anyone's approval for 193 the appointment of Ministers—it has the approval of the Scottish people, which is all the sovereignty that is required. That is not to argue for independence.
Earlier, we debated whether, if the Scottish Parliament broke down and did not work, that would lead to independence or whether it would benefit the Tories and lead us back to a United Kingdom unitary state. I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond): if the Scottish Parliament is a success, it will greatly increase the confidence among the Scottish people. Yes, the Scottish Parliament will argue for more and more powers to be devolved to it—there is nothing wrong with that. The real wreckers of the Scottish Parliament, who are sitting on the official Opposition Benches, do not want the Scottish Parliament to work, so they want the Bill to contain all these various control mechanisms.
I have great sympathy with the idea that the number of Ministers should be restricted, not only in the Scottish Parliament but in this Parliament. The example of Nepal was cited, where of 130 Members 85 are Ministers. Everyone who is not a Minister wants to be one, so the Executive have complete control over the legislature, much as they have in this Parliament. As a point of principle, I want the Executive to be limited, but not to 10. I want a series of Departments to be set up under the Scottish Parliament, each with its own Minister, so that there are separate Departments for housing, health and local government. The Scottish Parliament should be able to decide on the number of Ministers and whether that number should be limited.
There is much to be said for Bank Benchers having the power to hold the Executive to account. Any Parliament that is worth its salt has to have a number of independent Back Benchers. The trouble with the Westminster Parliament is that there are not enough independent Back Benchers—the Executive tightly control the Back Benchers, which is the wrong way round. We could easily ensure that the Scottish Parliament gets things the right way round, but that will not happen if we check and limit its powers to get on with its own business.
The aim of the amendments is simple. It is for the Scottish Parliament—not for Westminster, the monarch of the United Kingdom state or anyone else—to decide who the Ministers are in the Government of the day in Scotland, as the Scottish Parliament alone will be elected by the Scottish people to fulfil that task.
§ Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)
There is only one Liberal Democrat amendment in this group. It is a tidying-up amendment that relates to amendment No. 275, which was tabled by the Conservatives. We fully support that amendment, as it deals with the important issue of the mental health of the First Minister. There is a risk that the First Minister will suffer from megalomania. We already have a Secretary of State who single-handedly decides where the Parliament should be, so there is no knowing what may happen when power goes to people's heads in the Scottish Parliament and they are corrupted, as all people in power always are. By the law of averages, Conservative Members must sometimes be right—on this occasion, we believe that they have a good point.
We do not agree with the two other points that Conservative Members have made. First, we do not see why there should be a limit on the number of Ministers 194 in the Scottish Cabinet. The Scottish Parliament may decide to operate totally differently from Westminster—for example, there may be a flat structure rather than one that includes Secretaries of State and junior Ministers. It should have the scope to approach matters in a modern way and to organise its affairs as it wishes. The electorate will soon respond if there are jobs for the boys and girls, and will punish those responsible. Things can be left to the good sense not of the politicians, but of the electorate.
Secondly, the Conservatives have moved against what we believe is one of the Bill's best proposals—the introduction of the concept, which is new to Britain, that Parliament must approve all the Ministers. That is a great step towards democracy, and it is a pity that the Conservatives want to remove it.
I shall now deal with the points made by the hon. Members for Falkirk and for Dundee, East and West respectively, I think, although I never remember—
§ Mr. Gorrie
The difference is not so subtle.
The hon. Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) are two of the most refreshing hon. Members, and we have the greatest sympathy with the angle from which they are coming. On this occasion, however, although we understand their argument, we do not agree with it. We believe that the matter is covered in clause 43(1), which states:the Parliament shall within the period allowed nominate one of its members for appointment as First Minister".That makes it clear that the Parliament chooses the First Minister. As I said, it also has the power to approve the Ministers.
There is a good argument for continuing to mention the Queen in this context. People may feel that there should be a different constitutional structure, but that is a debate for another day. Under the existing structure, the fact that the Queen has the same relationship to the Scottish premier as she does to the British premier gives legitimacy and status to the Scottish Parliament. It demonstrates that the Scottish Parliament is not a toy town Parliament, a parish council, a regional council or a city chambers—it is a Parliament with a direct relationship to the Queen.
The language may be archaic, but the point at issue is sound—the Scottish Parliament should choose the First Minister. The Parliament will meet to elect the First Minister; he or she will not have to drive in a horse and carriage across the road to Holyrood palace, although the Queen will do whatever she usually does and bless the premier, perhaps—I do not know, as I have never been present at such an occasion.
Clause 47 deals with civil servants. Liberal Democrats strongly believe that a new atmosphere should be created, in which the civil servants are responsible to the Parliament and do not work for the Government only. This is not the appropriate time to ensure that that happens, but when the Parliament's methods of operation and Standing Orders are considered, we shall push strongly in that direction. Civil servants should continue 195 to advise Ministers, but they should also give information to and have much more open discussions with Members from all parties in the Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Given the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), I have a sneaking suspicion that he has read the first leader in this morning's The Scotsman.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a question. If there is a conflict of opinion over a United Kingdom reserved matter, whose advice will the Queen take? Will she take the advice of the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament or that of the Prime Minister of the UK? If the matter is a devolved one, will the Queen take the advice of the Prime Minister or of the First Minister? Furthermore, if the matter is devolved but the UK Parliament is legislating under clause 27(7), whose advice will the Queen take—that of the Prime Minister or of the First Minister?
§ Mr. Grieve
I broadly welcome clause 42. Its purpose is to emphasise the importance of the First Minister's role and his direct relationship with the sovereign. I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) does not like the principles underlying that but, as has properly been said, unless there is a change in our constitutional arrangements, it will be wise to observe constitutional conventions, so as to ensure a good working relationship between Westminster and Edinburgh and to secure the status of the Edinburgh Parliament. The First Minister should be appointed by Her Majesty and hold office at her pleasure; that will be an important constitutional safeguard, which will be to the advantage of the Scots.
In tabling amendment No. 254, my concern was that, although clause 42 (1) to (3) properly sets out the First Minister's role, subsections (4) and (5) go off the boil and refer to a curious hybrid entity. Subsection (4) mentionsa person designated by the Presiding Officerin circumstances where, I infer, the Parliament has not nominated someone for appointment. I do not want to get involved in an exercise in semantics, but as the Secretary of State and the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution are here, I ask them to consider carefully whether clause 42 is properly drafted. The references in it to the designation "by the Presiding Officer" of a First Minister ad interim, while Parliament makes up its mind, would be better transferred to clause 43.
Clause 42 should define simply and neatly what the First Minister is supposed to do. Some other part of the Bill should emphasise what the designated First Minister is supposed to be. I assume that he or she is to be the person appointed to stand in for the First Minister if the office is vacant, and so is supposed to have all the powers, rights and obligations that the First Minister has. If that is the case, it would be sensible not to leave the wording in this hybrid condition. The legislation should make it clear that we are talking about a First Minister ad interim, who holds office at Her Majesty's pleasure exactly as any other Minister would do. As that is a non-party political issue, will the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution look into it?
In conclusion, there has been some discussion of the role of the advice given by the First Minister and by the Prime Minister in the event of conflict—a matter 196 raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is obvious that that is a real live issue. In defining the role of the First Minister, it is important that his status should be emphasised and that his direct position as the adviser of the Queen on matters relating to devolved issues should be at the forefront. In so far as clause 42 does not do so, I ask the Minister to look at it again and consider whether there should be some rejigging along the lines I have suggested in amendment No. 254 and the associated amendment, No. 255, which has not been selected because it relates to clause 43.
§ Mr. Salmond
I am surprised that there was not more enthusiasm from the hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) for limiting the number of Ministers. If the Minister of the dome has any say in the appointments, I suspect that neither of those hon. Gentlemen is knocking at the door of ministerial office at present. Indeed, if the Minister of the dome has anything to do with it, the public gallery is the nearest that they may get to the Scottish Parliament. We all hope that that will not be the case and that more democratic processes will be allowed to be carried forward. However, we should be grateful to those two hon. Gentlemen for enabling us to have an important debate.
Tory Members should not misunderstand the position that has been put forward in the amendments. It is not an attack on the monarchy, or the Queen as Head of State, but an attack on one aspect of the royal prerogative, particularly as it applies to the choice of Ministers. That is a legitimate argument. If the amendments were successful, the Queen would remain Head of State, but one aspect of the royal prerogative as regards the appointment of Ministers in a Scottish Parliament would have been removed.
Certainly, it is difficult to argue with the logic of the argument of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West that the position of the First Minister, and indeed other Ministers, should depend on the approval and appointment of the Scottish Parliament as opposed to an aspect of the royal prerogative.
We heard a fascinating interchange between the hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Dundee, East. The latter argued that because the Queen normally takes advice from her first Minister, the Prime Minister, and therefore exercises the functions of the royal prerogative on the advice of that person, it could be a dangerous intervention in the ability of a Scottish Parliament to choose its own Ministers. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield says that the clause is some form of entrenchment because it would give the First Minister of a Scottish Parliament a direct line to the head of state and therefore would put that person as a Prime Minister inter pares with the United Kingdom Prime Minister in terms of the relationship with their Head of State.
The interchange was fascinating and not one to which I had paid close attention before this debate. The question has to be resolved one way or the other and the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution would do the Committee a service if he could adjudicate and tell us whether the interpretation of the hon. Member for 197 Beaconsfield or that of the hon. Member for Dundee, East was correct. The logic of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West is impeccable in the amendments and I am sympathetic to them, but that issue, which determines in practical terms the position of the Scottish Parliament and its standing with regard to the sovereign and her advisers, needs to be clarified.
Finally and briefly, Conservative Members seemed concerned about protecting the people from the Scottish Parliament, but many people in Scotland voted for that Parliament to protect them from the Conservative party. The need to box in the Scottish Parliament's powers, as opposed to leaving them for the Standing Orders of a Scottish Parliament, betrays an underlying attitude that is not reconciled to the reality of that Scottish Parliament. The Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen, although perhaps not some of the Back Benchers, are still in a process of denial as far as the Scottish Parliament is concerned. They may not like hearing this, but the Conservative recovery will not start until that process of denial in Westminster comes to an end.
§ Mr. McLeish
First, on the point made by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) about mental health issues, I have consulted the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) who is a neuro-surgeon, but he did not want to offer any suggestions to the Committee at this point. However, he suggested that the Scots are slightly better at differentiating between those who have a mental health problem and those who do not. I shall leave that as a question for the Committee. Interestingly, paragraph 9 of schedule 7 amends the Mental Health Act 1983, so the procedures to which the hon. Member for Woodspring referred will apply in a modified way to the Scottish Parliament. I will touch on some of the more serious issues when I refer to the amendments.
To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) who made a point about this—I do not know whether it was a slip—the Bill provides no role for the United Kingdom Government in the selection of the First Minister, the Scottish Ministers and junior Ministers, so there is no locus for this Parliament or this Government in that regard. I do not know whether that was his point.
§ Mr. McAllion
Can my hon. Friend make clear the distinction to which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) referred? If the Scottish Parliament chooses a First Minister and proffers that choice to the Queen for appointment, but the advice of the British Prime Minister is not to accept the choice, whose advice would the Queen follow?
§ Mr. McAllion
My hon. Friend is clearly stating that the Queen would take the side of the Scottish Parliament, as set out in the Bill, against the British Prime Minister. Therefore, the British Prime Minister does not exercise sovereign control over the affairs of this country.
§ Mr. McLeish
The Scottish Parliament would approve the appointment of the First Minister. The Presiding Officer would submit that appointment to the Queen and that would be it. We are talking about a substantial 198 devolution of power and responsibility to the Scottish Parliament. Devolution means devolution. It will be up to the Scottish Parliament to approve the First Minister, the Scottish Ministers and the junior Ministers. Of course, those appointments will then be approved by the Queen. It is straightforward and there are no complications.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I will not ask my hon. Friend for an answer off the top of his head, but will he write to me, because this question is not as simple as he makes out? Clause 27(7) states:This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland.In the light of that, I think that my hon. Friend should give me a considered answer in a letter.
§ Mr. McLeish
I shall be happy to write to my hon. Friend, but we should make it clear that clause 27(7), and the debate on it, is about sovereignty and the ability of the Westminster Parliament to make laws in any area, devolved or reserved. This evening, we are talking about the First Minister, and I repeat that he or she will be selected by the Parliament after the election and the choice will be passed to the Queen by the Presiding Officer. That is the process.
§ Mr. Salmond
The point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is wrong, because it relates to legislation, not to appointments. However, is it not correct that, under clause 27(7), the UK Parliament could legislate to change the method of appointing the Scottish First Minister?
§ Mr. McLeish
We have debated the issue and points have been exchanged across the Committee; the view taken depends on one's political perspective. We have made the point that this measure devolves substantial powers to Scotland—it is about devolution, not separation or independence.
The Government cannot agree to amendments Nos. 44, 76 and 87 to 90, which were tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Dundee, East. The amendments would remove the involvement of Her Majesty in the appointment of the First Minister, other Scottish Ministers appointed under clause 44 and junior Ministers appointed under clause 46.
The Scottish Ministers, headed by the First Minister and assisted by the junior Scottish Ministers, will exercise, on behalf of Her Majesty, her prerogative and other executive functions in relation to devolved matters. They will, in effect, be Her Majesty's Government in Scotland in relation to devolved matters. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the Queen should appoint the First Minister; that she should approve the appointment of other Ministers and junior Ministers to the Scottish administration; and that each of those appointees should hold office at her pleasure.
The involvement of Her Majesty does not, of course, exclude the involvement of the Parliament. On the contrary, in line with the White Paper, the Bill provides a significant role for the Scottish Parliament in the appointment of the Scottish Executive. It is a point worth making that in this place, Ministers are not approved or, selected by the House, but the Scottish First Minister and the other Scottish Ministers will be approved and voted on by the Scottish Parliament.
199 That is a significant step forward in the scrutiny of the Executive. It starts at the foundation: the people will have spoken in electing Members of the Scottish Parliament who then, for the first time and unlike here, will have the ability to influence who represents the people of Scotland in ministerial posts. The significance of that step should not be lost on the Committee this evening. We see no need to amend the Bill in the way proposed, and I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West withdraw the amendment.
I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West and for Dundee, East in support of amendment No. 75. The nature of the post of junior Scottish Minister will differ from that of a member of the Scottish Executive. The nature of their task will be to assist the Scottish Ministers in the exercise of their functions. With that in mind, the Bill proposes a simpler mechanism for their appointment. Nevertheless, I am also aware that the Scottish Constitutional Convention recommended that all Ministers should require to be confirmed by simple majority of the full Parliament.
I am therefore happy to accept the intention behind amendment No. 75 that the Parliament should be involved in the appointment of junior Scottish Ministers. I therefore undertake to bring forward an appropriate Government amendment on Report. With that undertaking, I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West not to press the amendment.
The Government cannot agree to amendment No. 254. The provisions in the Bill are intended to ensure that there is always someone able to perform the functions of the First Minister and act as head of the Scottish Administration. In practice, it is expected that each First Minister will hold office until replaced by his or her successor. However, circumstances could arise where the post falls vacant, for example on the death of the First Minister or if the First Minister is temporarily unable to act—that may fall partly into the definition proposed by the hon. Member for Woodspring. In such an event, a caretaker can be appointed to fulfil the role, pending the nomination and appointment of a new First Minister.
§ Mr. Grieve
I understand that point, but the clause as it stands conveys the impression—it may be no more than an impression—that the person who is acting is somehow a different animal from the First Minister, whereas my understanding is that an acting First Minister would still hold office at the Queen's pleasure and have all the First Minister's powers. That is the point that is opaque in the clause as it stands.
§ Mr. McLeish
That is a reasonable reflection, but I must get on and cover some more of the points raised in the debate.
The mechanism for appointment of such a caretaker reflects the exceptional and transitory nature of the appointment. It lacks the formalities of the appointment of the First Minister precisely so as to avoid conveying the impression that the person is the First Minister rather than a temporary incumbent. On balance, the Government believe that the arrangements should be kept as simple as possible. The Presiding Officer is well placed to be able 200 to judge which Member of the Scottish Parliament has the capacity and political credibility to fulfil that important role and I believe that it should be left to the Presiding Officer's discretion.
The Government do not accept amendments Nos. 276 and 277. Amendment No. 276 would restrict the number of Scottish Ministers whom the First Minister can appoint. It would be inappropriate to do that, for a variety of reasons. The First Minister will have to seek the agreement of the Scottish Parliament; therefore, within the group of 129 MSPs, there is accountability and a chance to make a judgment on the number of Scottish Ministers. The Parliament will be able to withhold its approval if it thinks that there are too many nominations. In addition, through its control of salaries and allowances, the Parliament will be able to limit to a reasonable sum the expenditure on ministerial salaries.
There is a feeling on both sides of the Committee that the matter should be left to the Parliament. It is a question of maturity and of adopting a sensible perspective. Ultimately, the First Minister and the Scottish Parliament will be accountable to the people of Scotland for their actions. That will, in our view, provide the proper means of ensuring that the size of the membership of the Scottish Executive is truly appropriate.
§ Mr. McLeish
The Committee is not offering a blank cheque to anyone. We are setting up a mature, serious and responsible Parliament, and it will be up to the Members of that Parliament to decide what Ministers are required to carry out the functions and represent the interests of the Scottish people. That is appropriate and proper. We do not share the Opposition's concerns, and I hope that they will not press the amendment.
The Government cannot accept amendments Nos. 275 and 313, which are both unnecessary and inappropriate. The circumstances described are unlikely to arise in practice, and if they did, there are mechanisms in the Bill to deal with the problem. If at any time it appeared to the Presiding Officer that the First Minister was unable to act for whatever reason, including mental illness, it would be open to him or her under clause 42(4) to designate an MSP to exercise the functions of the First Minister.
Should it become clear that the First Minister's inability to carry out his functions was not going to be merely temporary, he would be expected to resign. In the unlikely event of his being unwilling to resign, the Scottish Parliament could effectively remove him and his Executive through a vote of no confidence. That would require the First Minister to resign and would, in turn, lead to the appointment of a new First Minister. That may seem a drastic course of action, but the likely political reality is that there would be a general recognition of the need to address the problem and the Parliament could act to ensure that the matter was resolved without delay. In any case, I submit that clauses 42(4) and 43 provide a serious process to deal with a potential problem. First, there is a temporary acceptance and accommodation of the fact that the First Minister is unable to do the job; then there is a proper procedure to repair the situation.
201 The Government cannot accept amendment No. 278, which would remove from the First Minister some valuable flexibility to tailor the structure of the Scottish Administration to the demands upon it. In view of the time, I shall now sit down.
§ Mr. Canavan
This is a somewhat historic occasion, as it has been many years since I last tabled an amendment that was accepted in principle by the Government. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that. I am pleased that the appointment of all Scottish Ministers, whether the First Minister, other Scottish Ministers or junior Ministers, will be subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament. I am not convinced of the arguments for the role of the monarchy in the appointment of Ministers, but I shall not press that point. I shall seek to withdraw amendment No. 44 at the end of the debate and I look forward to the Government tabling an amendment similar to my amendment No. 75 on Report.
§ Mr. Wallace
Junior Ministers will not be members of the Scottish Executive under the terms of clause 41. Will the Minister explain why?
§ Mr. McLeish
The simple answer is that we shall have the First Minister and the Scottish Ministers, and we hope that the junior Ministers will have a supportive role in the work carried out by the other Ministers.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.