HC Deb 09 February 2004 vol 417 cc1146-239

[Relevant document: The First Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 77, on the Coincidence of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in Scotland and the Consequences of Change.]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.58 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is short and to the point. It will keep the composition of the Scottish Parliament at 129 Members by removing the link in the Scotland Act 1998 that makes the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament the same as those for Westminster. The Bill will also provide for the separate review of the Scottish Parliament constituencies and regions by the Electoral Commission, which takes over the responsibilities of the boundary commission after the completion of the current review cycle. Without these provisions, there would be no mechanism for reviewing the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament constituencies.

I also want to set out my proposals for dealing with the difficulties that many people believe will arise from having four different voting systems in Scotland, and other associated matters. I shall return to that in a moment. but first let me set out why this Bill is necessary.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

I hope that at some point the Secretary of State will touch on the relationship between Members of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish MPs. If we are to have a large number of MSPs doing all the—no doubt excellent—work that they do at local and constituency level, will he have something to say about the reduction in the responsibilities of Scottish MPs—to say nothing of their allowances—in this House? With all these additional politicians in the Scottish Parliament, how can we justify the continued activity of Scottish MPs, apparently on the same basis as their English and Welsh counterparts?

Mr. Darling

I shall have something to say about MPs and MSPs. The other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises is for this House, not for the Government.

The Government accepted from the outset that devolution removed the need for special consideration for Scotland in terms of representation in this House, and that there should be the same electoral quotas for Scotland as for England. That was an integral part of the devolution agreement. Section 86 of the Scotland Act 1998 provided for that reduction in MP numbers, but the Act also made the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament the same as those for Westminster, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend was in the House during the passage of the Scotland Act. Did he envisage—I certainly did not—that there would be an increase of some 250 per cent. in Scottish representation as a consequence of devolution? That is what one gets if one adds together 59 and 129 and compares it with what we had before.

Mr. Darling

As my hon. Friend knows, when these matters were originally debated it was envisaged that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament would reduce as and when the number of MPs being sent to Westminster reduced. As I was about to say, however, the Government said at the time that they would consider how the Scottish Parliament was working and keep the matter under review. Indeed, the Government were not the only people who said that. I note that although the Conservatives tabled an amendment—which, sadly, Mr. Speaker was unable to select—the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who still speaks for the Conservative party, at least on foreign affairs, said on 12 January 1998: it cannot be good for Scotland to find that, within a year or two of the Scottish Parliament getting going, its numbers are cut to reflect the changes in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster. It makes little sense to set up a Parliament, ask it to bed down and then make fundamental changes to its size and composition."—Official Report, 12 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 43.] So it was not only members of the Government who took the view that these matters would have to be kept under review; it was the view of Conservative Members, too. That may explain why the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes does not have his name on the Conservative amendment.

The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) is that when the Scotland Bill was going through the House, it was anticipated that there would be a reduction in the number of MSPs to match the reduction in the number of MPs being sent to Westminster—but my noble Friend Lord Sewel made it clear that the Government would keep the matter under review. They did so, and subsequently consulted. The conclusion, which was announced by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Lidell), was that the Government would legislate to keep 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Rather than relying on who said what to whom, surely the most convincing illustration of the situation is the question that if it was envisaged—or at least, if it was a strong probability—that the Parliament would keep 129 Members, would not the late Donald Dewar have accepted a design for a Parliament with 129 rooms for MSPs?

Mr. Darling

I should have thought that most Members of this House would be more than happy to leave the accommodation arrangements at Holyrood to those at the Scottish Parliament charged with the responsibility of overseeing the project.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to remarks by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes. He may recognise this comment, too: we also believe that the Parliament could operate efficiently with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies."—[Official Report, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.] Those are the words of the former First Minister, Henry McLeish.

Mr. Darling

I recognise the words of the former First Minister. However, may I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil that when the Scotland Bill was considered, it was envisaged that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament would reduce as the number of Members of Parliament went down. Indeed, the legislation provided for that. However, we said at the time that we would keep the matter under review. We have done that, and the consensus of opinion—I know that the feeling is not universal—is that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament should remain at 129.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling

I should like to make some progress, or we shall never reach the exciting bit, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tynan

I thank my right hon. Friend. There seems to be some confusion about the number of offices in the Scottish Parliament. I understand that Reid's Close has 105 MSP offices, and that Queensberry House, for the Presiding Officer and two deputies, makes the total 108. Is that not the case?

Mr. Darling

I have no idea about the accommodation arrangements at Holyrood. Although it is currently in my constituency—the boundary commission has made sure that that will not remain the case for much longer—I have not yet had the pleasure of a guided tour of the building. Perhaps I shall one day.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling

I must make some progress. If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask about the accommodation arrangements in Holyrood, he would do better to direct his inquiries to the Scottish Parliament.

As hon. Members know, the boundary commission recently finished reviewing Scottish Westminster constituencies and it recommends reducing the number to 59. The next stage would be for the commission to consider the boundaries of the regions that return additional Members to the Scottish Parliament. That work must be either concluded or made unnecessary by the Bill before the commission can report to me. The commission is considering the best way to proceed in the light of the Bill's progress.

The commission is required by statute to report by December 2006. When it does so is a matter solely for the commission itself, but in the light of its progress so far, the review is likely to be finished long before the deadline

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

I wrote to the Secretary of State about that matter a couple of weeks ago. Does he envisage any circumstances in which we might not contest the next general election under new boundaries?

Mr. Darling

I am sorry, but I did not pick up the hon. Gentleman's question.

Pete Wishart

It is an important question for the Secretary of State. Can he imagine any possibility of not fighting the next general election with the new constituencies? Will we definitely fight the next election under new boundaries?

Mr. Darling

If there were a general election tomorrow morning, we would probably fight it on the existing boundaries. However, as I have said on many occasions, the boundary commission has finished all its work on the Westminster constituencies. It would logically consider the consequential effect on the regions that provide the additional MSPs. The commission is well aware of the Bill and it is currently deciding how best to proceed. The Prime Minister and I have often said that as soon as we get the report—the timing is a matter for the boundary commission—we shall implement it. I cannot make that any clearer.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position—[Laughter.] Will he clarify it so that I can understand it? Will the commission start its deliberations on the Scottish Parliament boundaries immediately? Will that mean that its recommendations will be implemented by 2007?

Mr. Darling

Perhaps I have misunderstood my hon. Friend, but I believe that he is confusing two separate matters. As all hon. Members know, the boundary commission, which considers the boundaries for Westminster constituencies, has finished its work on that. Under current legislation, which the Bill would change, the boundary commission would consider the boundaries that govern the return of the additional MSPs. The Bill specifically stops that work because first, we want to maintain the 129 MSPs, and secondly, as I am about to say if I get that far—I propose that we should consider the consequences of having four different systems in Scotland. The commission that I propose to establish to examine that, is different from the boundary commission.

Mr. Andrew Turner

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling

No. That is hard on the hon. Gentleman, and I promise that I shall let him in before I finish, but not yet.

As I said, following the consultation, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, told the House on 18 December 2002 that the Government intended to bring forward legislation to retain the existing number of MSPs, and that legislation is now before the House. We are aware of concerns about the future operation of different boundaries for Westminster and Holyrood constituencies. They have been raised on many occasions in this House and elsewhere. We therefore welcome the report published on 3 February by the Scottish Affairs Committee on the possible impact of non-coterminous boundaries on voters, party organisations, electoral administrators and others.

Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend announced in December 2002 her intention regarding a commission to look at issues arising from the idea of different Holyrood and Westminster boundaries. At that time, she proposed an independent commission to be set up after the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 to consider the impact of having non-coterminous boundaries for Holyrood and Westminster constituencies. It was also indicated that the commission would not be precluded from looking at questions of electoral systems, including proportional representation.

I have come to the view that we need to consider such questions not in 2007 but this year. I shall inform the House how I intend to take this matter forward, taking account of some significant changes that have occurred following the Scottish Parliament election last May. As the House will know, the Scottish Parliament is currently considering legislation that, if enacted, would lead to councils in Scotland being elected by the single transferable vote from 2007. Therefore, Scotland now faces the prospect of four different voting systems for an electorate of just over 3.8 million: for UK general elections, the first-past-the-post system; for European elections, a PR list system; for Holyrood, the additional member system; and, if the legislation goes through, STV for local government. In addition, the further complication exists that local government elections in Scotland are expected to take place on the same day as the Holyrood election.

Mrs. Helen Liddell (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)

I very much welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is bringing forward the independent commission. He makes an important point about the multiplicity of electoral systems that might exist in Scotland. We should all have learned from the May election the lesson that it is important to engage the electorate. Would my right hon. Friend therefore be prepared to raise with the First Minister the possibility that the new independent commission might also consider the electoral system for local government? If we have 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament and 59 Members of the Westminster Parliament, the boundaries should be coterminous. We need to look at how the electoral system operates to make sure that we have a coherent whole.

Mr. Darling

First, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her welcome for the announcement that I am in the process of making. Secondly, I shall explain when I set out the terms of reference and the areas to be covered by the commission how local government would be included. In my view, however, the commission needs to be able to look at all the matters that are giving rise to the difficulties that I have set out. Of course, it is for the Scottish Parliament to legislate for local government, just as it is for this Parliament to legislate in relation to the elections to the Scottish Parliament.

As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, the potential for significant confusion among voters is high as a result of us having four different systems. As the low turnout of voters at the May elections last year suggests, we ought to try to do all that we can to make voting more straightforward and understandable for the electorate, not more complicated. Indeed, since the Scottish Parliament elections last year, debate has been growing in Scotland on the subject of the electoral arrangements for the Scottish Parliament.

I have also considered the concerns raised about the divergence of boundaries for Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies, which will arise from the passage of the Bill before the House and the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs. There may also be scope for further confusion among the public as to their representation in such a circumstance—which, of course, was the conclusion of the Scottish Affairs Committee. That Committee further commented on the difficulties in relations between elected Members, the electorate and other bodies, such as local authorities, because of the sometimes overlapping responsibilities of constituency and list Members of the Scottish Parliament.

I think that, so that we can deal with all those aspects of possible confusion in our systems of election and representation, the establishment of the commission should be brought forward, and it should start work as soon as possible. It will examine the consequences of having four different voting systems in Scotland, and different boundaries between Westminster and Holyrood. It will consider the implications for voter participation, the relationship between public bodies and authorities in Scotland and MPs and MSPs, and the representation of constituents by different tiers of elected members. It will be asked to make representations on whether the consequences require action to be taken in respect of arrangements between elected representatives, to ensure that constituents and organisations receive the best possible service; the pattern of electoral boundaries in Scotland; the relationship with other public bodies and authorities in Scotland; and the method of voting in Scottish parliamentary elections.

The commission will be independent. It will consider the case for change, and make recommendations to me and to the First Minister. I intend to discuss the chairmanship and membership of the commission with the other political parties in the House, and I will announce its membership in due course.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Darling

I will give way to everyone with pleasure, but I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy).

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab)

I welcome the establishment of an independent commission, but will it come up with recommendations or with what I am sure many Members would favour—various options?

Mr. Darling

I expect it to make recommendations, but it might recommend the adoption of one of two possible courses. I do not want to fetter its discretion before it even gets going. It may produce a firm recommendation, having reached a conclusive view, or it may say "You could do such and such, or something else." I do not want to say at the very beginning that it must come up with a definite conclusion.

There is an important point here. As I have said before, if we are to change the way in which the Scottish Parliament is elected, a degree of consensus is needed. Unanimity will never be possible, but this is not something that a single political party can do.

The commission may produce a recommendation, or a series of recommendations, but it should be remembered that it is for us in this Parliament to decide which—if any—to accept, just as it is for the Scottish Parliament to make decisions relating to local government.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Darling

I will give way to everyone in due course, but I want to be as fair as possible. I give way to the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD)

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about consensus, and I recognise the value of the commission, but will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge, without binding it in any way, that the settlement that created the Scottish Parliament was endorsed in a referendum on the basis of the principle that the Parliament would be elected under a system of proportional representation? That was a done deal with the Scottish people. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the recommendations of the Scottish Affairs Committee, for instance, are totally inconsistent with that principle endorsed by the Scottish electorate?

Mr. Darling

It is open to the commission to consider the Select Committee's recommendations—along with, I dare say, many other representations. As for the hon. Gentleman's general point, it is true that the broad devolution settlement was agreed after a referendum. As I have always said, and as I said a moment ago, there must be a degree of consensus throughout Scotland. This is not just the province of political parties in Scotland; it is a matter for the public—the electorate—in Scotland. I repeat that I do not want to fetter the commission's discretion before it even gets going. It would be best for it to reach its own conclusions.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)

Can the Secretary of State give us some idea of the time scale he envisages? As it is nearly two years since we began to discuss the whole question of the 129 seats, would it not be sensible to complete the process sooner rather than later?

Mr. Darling

I agree. My view is that if we are to look at these issues, it should be done quickly. We should come to a conclusion as quickly as possible, consistent of course with having a proper examination of the views—

Mr. Andrew Turner

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Although devolution is of importance in Scotland and electoral systems are of great importance to some and, I suppose, of general importance to us all, I come from the school of thought that believes that no purpose is being served by keeping the process going year after year after year. I thus have a lot of sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). An inquiry should be set up, with time to consider the options open to it; it should report and then we should decide what to do.

David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab)


Mr. Darling

In the interests of balance, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and then to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Turner

The Secretary of State has referred twice to consensus, but on the second occasion he qualified his remarks by saying that it had to be consensus across Scotland. However, we are discussing United Kingdom legislation and it is certainly the consensus in my constituency that one Member of Parliament can serve 100,000 people. Why have my constituents not been asked for their view on this consensus, and why is it necessary for Scots to be served at the rate of one Member of Parliament per 20,000 people?

Mr. Darling

With respect, the hon. Gentleman's question seems to flow from a misunderstanding of the constitutional arrangements in this country. We determine what the consensus is through Parliament—through the House of Commons. We all have a vote on these matters. When proposals eventually come before the House, we all have to decide whether to vote. On the general point about the size of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I have already said that, as a result of the Scotland Act 1998, the same electoral quota as currently applies in England is now being applied in Scotland through the work of the Scottish Parliament. That point is already being dealt with.

David Hamilton

When the last review took place I was a member of the public and voted on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, not on the detail of how the election would be held. May I bring my right hon. Friend back to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe)? When the recommendations are made, which will, I hope, be sooner rather than later—they should be made quickly—we should talk not about recommendations but about the alternatives available to us. It is for us to make the decisions, not the professionals who make recommendations to us. That is extremely important; there should be alternatives, not recommendations.

Mr. Darling

It will always be a matter for the House of Commons to decide which recommendations, or parts of recommendations, it wants to pursue. That is well understood. The point that I was making to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South is that it would be wrong for me to say at the very start of the process, "Here's an independent commission, but by the way this is what I want you to conclude", or to say that the commission should offer only us alternatives. A commission might set out a range of options—either because it could not come to a unanimous view or because it felt that some things should be considered further by the House or the Scottish Parliament. I do not know what the commission will decide, but I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) and other Members that I think it is the best way for us to look at the present electoral arrangements in Scotland, as well as those planned for 2007, so that we can then consider the best option in the future.

Mr. Salmond

In the interests of consensus, I welcome the consultation process. However, a few seconds ago, the Secretary of State said that the commission would report to him and the First Minister. Is not there a strong argument that such a commission should be established by the Scottish Parliament and, given the fact that the current electoral system, which so many Labour MPs find so distasteful, was actually voted for in the House, would not it be far better to let the Scottish Parliament have a go to see whether it can find a better electoral system, as its politicians are the ones most immediately concerned?

Mr. Darling

No, I disagree. The way in which Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected is reserved to Westminster; it is an integral part of the devolution settlement. The hon. Gentleman is a nationalist—he is a separatist, so of course he does not agree with that. However, the Labour party is not separatist—we are a party of the Union. We believe in the devolution settlement, and that is not up for grabs.

Mr. Roy

I understand the Secretary of State's argument, but my point is that he does not know that the commission will not come back with just one recommendation. I would like my right hon. Friend to ask the commission expressly to come back with various alternatives. As I said, there is nothing to stop the commission providing just a single recommendation. Frankly, that is not enough.

Mr. Darling

I understand my hon. Friend's point, but if we are to set up an independent commission, it is important that we do not end up with a position where, right from the start, we steer it in a direction in which it might not want to go. For all I know, the commission might provide a range of options—

Mr. Roy

Or one.

Mr. Darling

It might come up, as my hon. Friend says, with one option, but we must remember that the Government of the day, the House and Parliament as a whole have a perfect right to accept all, none or only parts of the recommendations.

In setting out this course of action, I have consulted the First Minister, who shares my concerns and welcomes taking the debate forward. I want to make it clear that I have an open mind on these matters and that we should not pre-judge the conclusions, although, as I said earlier, the outcome must respect the basic principles of the devolution settlement.

I reiterate that the interests of the electorate and the ease and effectiveness with which they exercise their democratic rights are paramount in all those matters. I have also made it clear that any future decision to change the present electoral arrangements should try to reflect a consensus within Scotland. The commission will therefore be expected to carry out its remit through wide-ranging consultation designed to achieve general support for any change. There will never be unanimity, but the system of election to the Scottish Parliament does need broad agreement. It is our responsibility to provide the basis for a debate on electoral arrangements for that Parliament because the matter is reserved to Westminster.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) (Lab)

I am listening carefully to right hon. Friend, but will he confirm my interpretation that he is proposing to set up a commission in order to sort out a confusion that we are still in the process of creating today?

Mr. Darling

No, I would not agree with my hon. Friend. We are trying to resolve the difficulties arising from the fact that, by 2007—assuming that the legislation to set up local government elections is passed—we will have four different systems for electing various people in Scotland, which has an electorate of 3.8 million. That needs to be resolved and that is why I am setting up a commission. It would have been possible for the Government to propose a particular solution, but I believe that we need a consensus—inasmuch as it is possible to secure one—to ensure that the system is generally acceptable in Scotland.

Mr. O'Neill

Can my right hon. Friend tell us more about the sequence? The Bill is going through Parliament and will deal with the number of seats. Is the commission not in any way related to the functions or purposes of the Bill, or will it feed into some part of the parliamentary procedures? Will it result in legislation that is wholly separate from the legislation before us today? Frankly, I do not understand the timetable of what my right hon. Friend is talking about. Would it not be more sensible to withdraw the legislation and let the commission deal with the problem, so that we could then come back and deal with its recommendations?

Mr. Darling

I shall have to disappoint my hon. Friend on that. We said two years ago that we intended to introduce legislation to retain 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. We promised to do that and the Bill to achieve it is now before the House. It is being dealt with separately from the issues considered by the commission.

I set up the commission because I am well aware that both within and outside political parties in Scotland there is concern about the number of different voting systems and the problems thrown up by the lack of coterminosity between Westminster and Holyrood. That is why a commission is being established, but its timetable is different from the timetable for the Bill. The intention is that the Bill, providing it gains the support of the House and the other place, will be on the statute book by the summer. We promised that we would do that, and going back on that promise would be to invite allegations of bad faith. The commission, as I explained, is operating on a different time scale.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the four different voting systems in Scotland for councils and Scottish, Westminster and European Parliaments will cause confusion among the electorate and encourage voter apathy in all elections? I understand that the commission may consider whether it is impossible for the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments to have the same system, but we should at least have the same system for local government in Scotland and for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the commission will consider the arrangements for elections in Scotland—those for the Scottish Parliament and those in relation to local government—and I agree that there is some confusion. All of us who voted last May will recall seeing people who were confused about how the list system worked. Indeed, at the polling station that I was in, an old lady asked for advice from the polling clerk, who looked at me and said, "Not while he's here." [Laughter.]

We also need to consider the clarity of outcome. It is curious that everyone who stood in some elections got elected one way or another under the present system, and some voters find that difficult to understand—although many hon. Members might quite like such a system if we got elected regardless of what we did. My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, of which he is a member, considered those matters and believed that such confusion needed to be looked at.

Mr. Forth

Following the point made by the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) and others, will the Secretary of State in the end use his huge majority of English MPs to stampede legislation through the House that affects Scotland?

Mr. Darling

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates that we will have a huge majority for some time to come.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)

I return to the Select Committee's excellent report, which states: The Committee expects the Electoral Commission to produce its detailed proposals in time for the election to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 to be conducted under the new arrangements. It is, therefore, imperative that the Commission starts its work without delay"— as my right hon. Friend is saying— and that it presents its findings to the Secretary of State for Scotland who should take the final decision based on all available information. Does my right hon. Friend think it is possible for the new arrangements to be implemented at the next Scottish Parliament election in 2007?

Mr. Darling

As I said in relation to an earlier question, I want the commission to be set up as quickly as possible and then to report as soon as it can, subject to having adequate time to consider such things. Thereafter, assuming that it recommends some form of change, primary legislation will be necessary. For obvious reasons, I cannot say when the Government might introduce such legislation, especially as we have not even got any recommendation to do so, but many people will take the view that, having set up the commission, it is best to ask it to get on with its work as quickly as it reasonably can because keeping such matters going for year after year would be unnecessary and not widely acceptable.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP)

Much has been made of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs report. I am a member of that Committee. Does the Secretary of State not accept that the defect in the report is that, after calling for a commission, it makes a specific recommendation for a system that many Labour Back Benchers are pushing for? Does he accept that that is wrong and that the commission should be completely independent?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman is relatively new to the House, but I can assure him that it is not unknown for Select Committees to make recommendations.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) (Lab)

I am trying my best to be sympathetic to the difficulties in which the Secretary of State finds himself, but is it not the truth that he is experiencing difficulties because we agreed—he says two years ago, but it may be more—to change the legislation without understanding the consequences of the change? We are now being asked to change the legislation and to rely on a commission of the great and the good to make decisions for us or to make recommendations. That does not point to good governance at all.

Mr. Darling

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Anyone who considered the matter two years ago when the former Secretary of State made the announcement would have understood full well the import of what was being considered.

There is a simple point to make about the commission. Although, in theory, it would be open to the Government of the day to say, "Right, this is the voting system. Take it or leave it", I do not think that it would be possible to make a change on something as fundamental as the way in which we elect representatives without there being a degree of consensus. My hon. Friend and I might disagree on that point, but it is important.

I am not suggesting that a commission is the only way to proceed, but I propose to establish a commission and I have said that I shall talk to party representatives in the House to get it set up as quickly as possible. However, as I have said many times before, there needs to be a debate in Scotland the best way of electing MSPs about and so on. That is the best way to proceed.

At this stage, I shall briefly go through what is in the Bill.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Darling

By convention, Secretaries of State do that, but I sense that the mood of the House is for me to do it quite quickly.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)

I think that I have understood everything that my right hon. Friend has said to the House, but one issue is not clear in my mind because it is one for the Scottish Executive. On the proposals for electing councillors to local government, do the Scottish Executive take a firm view or are they prepared to submit proposals on that to the same commission or to arbitration in the way that my right hon. Friend will in respect of matters that are relevant to him?

Mr. Darling

As I said a while ago, the decision about the system for electing councillors in Scotland is entirely a matter for the Scottish Executive. We have no control at all over that. It will be for the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to decide what course of action they wish to follow. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the agreement between the governing parties in the Scottish Executive in relation to this and it is no part of my statement today to interfere in the working of it. The commission will be set up after discussions with the First Minister and it will consider not just how we elect MSPs, but the implications of the changes proposed for councils. Whether that has implications for what the Scottish Executive are doing is a matter for them and not for me. It would probably be against the spirit of the whole devolution settlement if I were to go any further than that.

As I have said, the Bill is short and to the point so I can deal with what it does fairly quickly. [Interruption.] Most of my speech has not been about the Bill. Clause 1 will replace the first schedule to the Scotland Act 1998, which makes provision for constituencies. It will keep the size of the Parliament at 129 Members.

Clause 2 will give effect to the provisions in schedule 3 on the review of Westminster constituencies and the Scottish Parliament regions that is being carried out for the boundary commission for Scotland. Schedule 1 will provide a mechanism for reviewing these boundaries whatever they may be once the Bill is on the statute book.

Schedule 2 will make transitional provisions to deal with the position before the Electoral Commission takes over, and schedule 3 is important because it ensures that the boundary commission's recommendations in relation to the Scottish regions will no longer be relevant.

The scope of the Bill is narrow and deliberately so, because its sole aim is to give effect to the Government's promise to retain the current size and structure of the Scottish Parliament. I believe that the commission that I have announced today will deal with a number of concerns that have been raised not just in the House but throughout Scotland, and it will make recommendations on how we elect Members to the Scottish Parliament in future. However, as I have said, the purpose of this Bill is to make provision for retaining 129 MSPs. I commend it to the House.

5.39 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

The Secretary of State made it clear—perhaps I should say that he eventually made it clear—that the principal purpose of this short, four-clause Bill is to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to remove the link between constituencies for the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and constituencies here at Westminster.

The current position is straightforward and widely understood. Schedule 1 to the 1998 Act contains provisions to reduce MSPs at Holyrood in proportion to any reduction in Scottish seats at Westminster. Under the current legislation, once Westminster constituencies are cut from 72 to 59, MSPs at Holyrood would automatically reduce from 129 to 108.

Clause 1 fundamentally changes that. It amends schedule 1 to the 1998 Act so that the existing constituencies for the Scottish Parliament remain the same, irrespective of any changes made to parliamentary constituencies for this House. That is set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of schedule 1, which preserves 73 MSPs within the existing constituencies and 56 list MSPs in eight regions, with seven members per region.

In addition, the Bill provides that the Electoral Commission will review constituencies and regions for the Scottish Parliament separately from any review of Westminster constituencies. It represents a U-turn by the Labour Government on their previous commitments—put simply, it is undeniable that they have buckled under pressure from their own MSPs. That is why in December 2001 the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) launched her consultation on whether Westminster and Holyrood constituencies should continue to be linked. That is why, to little surprise on the Conservative Benches, on 18 December 2002 she announced to the House that she had been persuaded that the Scottish Parliament should remain as it is now at 129 MSPs.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD)

The hon. Gentleman mentions U-turns, but the Bill seeks to undo the U-turn in the 1998 Act from the commitment made by the Labour party in the convention on Scotland that the size of the Scottish Parliament would be appropriate to its functions and not coupled to the reduction in MPs at Westminster. The Bill also helps in that it speeds up the delivery of the reduction in MPs at Westminster by allowing the boundary commission to report on that half of the Government's proposals once it is enacted.

Mr. Duncan

There is considerable doubt about whether the number of MSPs is appropriate to the Scottish Parliament's functions.

To pacify Labour and Liberal MSPs in Edinburgh, the Labour Government say that the 1998 Act must be amended. Having set out the constitutional settlement in detail, they have taken only six years to start tinkering with it. Let me be clear: Conservative Members believe that the Bill is wrong. The Government should uphold the terms of the 1998 Act and, as they originally intended, proportionately reduce MSPs and MPs. In our view—this is the answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)—Scotland is already over-governed. It needs fewer politicians, not more. And there is no doubt that the Scottish Parliament could function as well, if not better, with a membership of 108.

Mr. Donohoe

The hon. Gentleman's argument does not take into account the proportionality within the Scottish Parliament and would reduce the numbers in the list system.

Mr. Duncan

That is one way of doing it. The argument is whether the constituency boundaries should be coterminous. I am aware of the logical point that the hon. Gentleman is about to make, which I shall address in a moment.

Mr. Salmond

I am struck by what the hon. Gentleman just said. The vast majority of MSPs, across a range of political parties—not the Conservatives, but everyone else—agree that 129 Members are necessary for the proper functioning of the Parliament. What exact specialty or knowledge does the hon. Gentleman have to gainsay that argument, given that it is the decided majority view of the majority of MSPs?

Mr. Duncan

It is the knowledge that I can spot a self-serving consensus when I see it.

Let me quote another authoritative source on this issue, who said: We understand the arguments in favour of maintaining the Parliament's size, but we also believe that the Parliament could operate effectively with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies."—[Official Report, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.] Those are not my words, nor those of any Conservative: they are the considered judgment of none other than the former First Minister for Scotland, Henry McLeish, during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998.

Conservatives support smaller government and a smaller Parliament, while being firmly committed to making devolution work. As the Scottish Conservative manifesto for the Scottish parliamentary elections in May said: The Scottish Parliament should not be immune from this drive for leaner, fitter government. We will cut the number of MSPs, in line with the reduction in Scottish MPs at Westminster, by implementing the provisions of the Scotland Act. But it is not just on those grounds that we oppose the Bill. Nor do we oppose it just on grounds that it is yet another reversal of policy by the Government. It is for many other reasons besides.

As a consequence of the Bill, if passed, future elections to Holyrood and Westminster would be fought on different constituency boundaries. It has been said that that will cause chaos and confusion".—[Official Report, 18 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 864.] Again, those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He is absent from his place today. There may be good reasons for that, as there often are when someone who attends as diligently as he does is not here. In the same debate, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) called the proposals "an absolute shambles".

The Bill runs counter to the arguments put by the Government in 1998 when the Scotland Bill was going through this House. As the then Scottish Office Minister and later First Minister, Henry McLeish, said, in rejecting a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Bill: We believe that the integrity of the Union will be strengthened by having common constituencies for the Scottish and United Kingdom Parliaments".—[Official Report, 28 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 456.] We can infer only that the purpose of the Government in introducing a Bill that breaks the link is to weaken the integrity of the Union.

Pete Wishart

In the hon. Gentleman's many travels to Scotland, has he ever come across any members of the Scottish public who have expressed their concerns about coterminosity?

Mr. Duncan

I know that there are some great intellectuals in Scotland, because I visit it regularly, as the origins of my name suggest.

Mr. McLeish also said: Having constituencies that cover the same geographical area will help to encourage liaison between MPs and MSPs in ensuring that the interests of their common electorate are served properly in whichever Parliament is responsible for an issue. Good working relationships between Members of the Scottish Parliament and Westminster will be essential if devolution is to be a success."—[Official Report, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.]

Last Tuesday, the Scottish Affairs Committee published its report, "Coincidence of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in Scotland and the Consequences of Change". Like all Select Committees, the Scottish Affairs Committee has a Labour majority, but even that did not prevent it from highlighting the tremendous tensions that would be created for the electorate by having different constituencies for Holyrood and Westminster. As the Committee concluded, in paragraph 11: The Committee considers the convenience of the electorate to be paramount. Based on the evidence we have received, we recommend that, in order to avoid possible confusion, the constituency boundaries in Scotland for elections to the United Kingdom and to the Scottish Parliament should remain coterminous". The reality is that different boundaries for elections to Holyrood and Westminster will create a complete mess. As my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) has pointed out, keeping 129 MSPs will simply add to the instability created by such issues as the West Lothian question. We believe that there should be coterminous boundaries, as did the Government in the 1998 Act. We also believe that Holyrood constituencies should be reduced in line with Westminster constituencies. The simple way to achieve that is by upholding the terms of the original legislation.

There is of course another aspect to this debate, which is the question of Scottish representation in this House.

Mr. Weir

If the hon. Gentleman wants simply to reduce the number of seats in the Scottish Parliament, in line with the reduction in seats in this place, from 72 to 59, will he explain whether he proposes to have 59 directly elected MSPs and retain the 56 list MSPs?

Mr. Duncan

I suppose that that is what would happen under the 1998 Act. However, let us consider representation in this House.

Mr. Donohoe


Mr. Duncan

Let me just move on. The Government have given several commitments that the reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster from 72 to 59 will take place in time for the next UK general election. The Scotsman reported in July 2003 that the Secretary of State told a private meeting of the Scottish group of Labour MPs there were no plans to postpone the boundary changes which will see the number of Scottish constituencies cut from 72 to 59. That followed a commitment given by the Prime Minister—who is struggling to ensure that everything that he says is fully trusted—in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), who voiced the suspicion shared by many that the Government plan to renege on their commitment to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. The Prime Minister replied that we made that commitment clear and we will of course carry it through."—[Official Report, 16 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 278.] Well, will he do that? Perhaps the Secretary of State can repeat that assurance today.

The Prime Minister made that comment the day before the Leader of the House said that the only commitment was to publish the report by 2006. The Secretary of State said in September that he expected to lay the order implementing the cut "early next year". Where is the order? Will he unequivocally commit to implementing this change according to that timetable, and before the next Westminster election if possible?

Mr. Darling

It is becoming pretty clear that the hon. Gentleman has scant knowledge of Scottish affairs in general. I think that he was in the Chamber when I made my speech, although he was chattering all the time. I said that the boundary commission had completed its work on the Westminster constituencies but not yet submitted its report to me as Secretary of State. As I have made clear on many occasions, and as the Prime Minister has also said, when it submits its report, that report will be implemented; but when it comes to me it is entirely in the hands of the independent boundary commission.

Mr. Duncan

If that is known to be the case, it seems very strange that such clear commitments were given in the first place. The Government should know better.

The Bill will reinforce the balances already created by the problem raised by the West Lothian question, and lead to a cut in the number of Scottish MPs here while maintaining the current number in Scotland. We consider that the Bill is bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. It reverses the commitments given by the Government in 1998, breaks yet another link between Westminster and Edinburgh and will lead to chaos and confusion across Scotland. I therefore urge the House to vote no today, and to resile from supporting this illogical and unprincipled Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 15-minute time limit on all Back-Bench speeches?

5.53 pm
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) (Lab)

This issue seems to excite hon. Members greatly. As has been pointed out, it is not first on the list of complaints at constituency surgeries, but it seems to have exercised us all for the past two years, since it was suggested that 129 Members should remain at Edinburgh.

We must ask ourselves how we arrived at this point in the first place. We did not come up with the figure of 129 overnight. The subject was debated in Scotland for at least 20 years, and that culminated in our setting up the Scottish Constitutional Convention, in which the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the unions and the churches all took part. Unfortunately, the Scottish National party did not, which is understandable given that it supports independence for Scotland, not devolution. The Conservatives, too, refused to take part, but that was not surprising at the time because 10 Scotland Members on the Conservative Front Bench—the Conservative party was then in government—decided everything that happened in Scotland, while 62 Scotland Members sat on the Opposition Benches.

That is how we reached the current position. The convention came up with 129, but it was not the original number; I think that that was 140 or 144. We made the decision to have 129 Members on an additional list system—so that there would be some proportionality—only after much discussion with the unions, the Liberal Democrats and the churches.

Mr. Peter Duncan

Does the hon. Lady accept that the consensus reached was on the balance between proportionally elected top-up Members and constituency Members? Therefore, if the number of constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament were reduced, it would be logical to maintain that proportion and reduce the number of list Members.

Mrs. Adams

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman's party had taken part in those discussions, he could have said something on that at the time, but it refused to do so.

Another subject that raised its head in the search for consensus was gender balance. Some of us thought that the convention had also found agreement on that, but only the Labour party addressed that issue, and it still seems to be the only party that does so. I hope that other hon. Members will tell us why their parties never got to that point.

The 129 Members were to be made up by the direct election to Edinburgh of one Member per Westminster constituency, with a top-up—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. May we have just one debate in the Chamber, please?

Mrs. Adams

There was then a top-up Member from a list system. Anyone who thinks that that system is working now is living in cloud cuckoo land. One directly elected Member operates surgeries in a given Westminster constituency, followed by, in my constituency, any one of eight list Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) pointed out to the Select Committee that in Glasgow some 77,000 votes were cast for the Labour party in the second ballot, but that not one person was elected with them. I do not know where the fairness in that system lies, given that a member of a minority party could be elected with 10,000 votes. The system clearly is not working.

John Robertson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the more than 77,000 members of the electorate who went to the bother of filling in their ballot papers would have done as well to throw them in a bucket as to take part in the election?

Mrs. Adams

Many people at the polling stations found it hard to understand how the system worked. The most common question that they asked was what the second vote was for, and what its outcome would be, and they were being told by minority parties, "Don't vote for the majority party or the main opposition party because your vote won't count." There is something wrong with a system in which democrats stand at a polling station and say that to people coming through the doors.

Mr. Salmond

I very much agree with the point that the hon. Lady is developing, in that, in my experience, the vast majority of people regard the second vote as a second preference. However, does she concede that there are other list systems and other forms of proportionality that do not depend on having two votes and two ballot papers?

Mrs. Adams

Absolutely. I concede that that is the case. My point is that this system is probably the worst that we could have chosen at the time—[Interruption.] I give way to the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan).

Mr. Peter Duncan

I am sorry; I was not seeking to intervene, but I shall take the opportunity to do so. The hon. Lady must accept that that was her system, decided on under the consensus that came out of the convention. She is seeking to deny the consensus on the one hand and uphold it on the other.

Mrs. Adams

Indeed I am not denying the consensus. This often happens when there is consensus: everyone gets what no one wants. That is part of the problem with consensus, but it is democratic. It does not always lead to the perfect system, but it gives everyone a little of what they want, although it does not give them all that they want.

Taking evidence in the Select Committee, we did not find anyone who supported the existing system. Everyone thought that it was not the best way of doing things and that we should look for other ways. The Committee agreed that 129 MSPs should remain at Edinburgh, primarily because most of the Scottish Parliament's committee structures are built around that figure. I am quite happy to accept that. That committee system seems to be working well, even though it has not had a lot of time to bed in, and that is a good enough reason to leave that number as it is.

The problem that then arises is that we do not have coterminous boundaries. That is not a problem for political parties. It might be a pain in the neck for them, but we can all find ways of managing the situation. I would suggest, however, that it is a great problem for the electors.

Mr. Sarwar

I understand that the present system for electing MSPs is not perfect, but what is my hon. Friend's preferred option? Would she go for a first-past-the-post system. such as that supported by the Conservatives, and which gave them zero per cent. representation in the 1997 elections? Or would she support the single transferable vote system for local government and the Scottish Parliament?

Mrs. Adams

There are many ways of doing this, and the Secretary of State is right to put this matter to a commission. The Select Committee said that we should ask a commission to give various options. We also said that there should be two Members in Edinburgh per Westminster constituency, but I do not think that that necessarily has to be done by a first-past-the-post system.

Mr. Roy

My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point. She said that the Select Committee hoped that the commission would come back with various options. However, if it comes back with only one recommendation to which the House has to say yes or no, does she see a danger of our having to go back to the very beginning? If we are presented with a number of alternatives, it will broaden the debate and there will be a far better chance of reaching consensus.

Mrs. Adams

I hope that a commission will take account of what is being said here today when it considers these issues. My main concern about its bringing forward only one recommendation is that it would become a fait accompli, and there would be grave dangers in that. We should be presented with options for achieving two Members per Westminster constituency. It could be achieved through a first-past-the-post system, through an alternative vote system, or by linking two or three Members within each Westminster constituency to give a single transferable vote system. There are many and varied ways of achieving that goal.

David Hamilton

May I put one alternative to my hon. Friend? MSPs also share a frustration in relation to list Members. They have to do all the work, yet at the end of the day these other people parachute in to take the work away from them. The alternative vote system is worthy of consideration because a majority of the electorate in a constituency has to vote for certain candidates. The commission should consider such a system.

Mrs. Adams

That is why it is important that the commission lays down all the options and tells us what they will achieve. That would give Parliament a real decision to make, and I believe that Governments should make those decisions. That is what Governments are elected to do. They should carry the can if the decision goes wrong, but they are here to do that job.

Mrs. Liddell

I am following the gist of my hon. Friend's argument. My only anxiety relates to the fankle that we got ourselves into over the reform of the House of Lords, when a raft of different alternatives was put before the House. How would my hon. Friend envisage such a problem being dealt with?

Mrs. Adams

The Secretary of State would have to deal with the recommendations made by the commission and make some sense of them when presenting them to the House. [Laughter.] I know that he will be delighted by that thought, but that is the way the cookie crumbles. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton) that concern has been expressed about list Members muscling in—I believe that that is the phrase that has been used—on directly elected Members' constituencies. This applies to all parties; it is not a party political point. Directly elected Members felt that specific issues were being cherry-picked, and that it was not necessarily the topic of the day that was being picked out but the one that was the most politically favourable. Campaigns were being set up.

Given the present boundary of my constituency, if we do not have coterminous boundaries, the new constituency will have three directly elected MSPs and eight list MSPs. That means that 11 people will have an interest in that one constituency. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities told the Committee that it had great difficulty in answering questions coming from the directly elected MSP and also from the list MSPs. It said that it was sometimes asked as many as 600 questions on the same subject. That was causing a great deal of difficulty, and the bureaucracy involved was enormous.

Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab)

I am happy to go on record as saying that I support the principle of coterminous boundaries for all elections in constituencies and wards, particularly in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that although the Scottish Parliament has the right to introduce any electoral system that it likes for local government, if it does not participate in the work of the commission and listen to what it says, rather than going its own way, there could be a danger of the whole thing falling apart?

Mrs. Adams

The Scottish Parliament has indicated that it is prepared to participate, and we all welcome that.

Coterminous boundaries are necessary, mainly for the electorate. They should not matter to us—we should find ways round the issue—but the electorate need the easiest system that we can come up with to enable them to vote. Until now, people have been used to building blocks from one part of the system to the other, in relation to each tier of government. In local government in my constituency, for example, there are 15 council seats and one MSP.

Pete Wishart

In the numerous surgeries that the hon. Lady conducts in her constituency, how many members of the public have come to her and expressed their concern about coterminosity?

Mrs. Adams

None of them would put it in quite those terms, but they might express the difficulty with having different systems. In fact, the Electoral Commission told us that, after the last Scottish parliamentary elections, it carried out a survey that found that 13 per cent. of those who did not vote did not do so because the system confused them. They honestly did not understand it. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the Select Committee report, he will find that evidence in it.

People have been used to building blocks from one tier of democracy to the other. The old regional councils were probably the best example of that. There were five district council seats, three regional council seats and one MP. People understood that; they understood who their directly elected Member was and which tier of government was represented by whom. It is important that we retain that. That is why we considered that there should be two directly elected Members to Edinburgh per Westminster seat. The commission should come up with a way for that to be achieved.

Mr. Andrew Turner

The hon. Lady mentioned list Members parachuting into constituencies. I understand that the code of conduct for MSPs requires that they should not misrepresent the basis on which they are elected or the area that they serve". Does that mean that list MSPs are not allowed to describe themselves as "the MSP for Paisley, North", in the way that Liberal MEPs in my patch describe themselves as "the MEP for the Isle of Wight"?

Mrs. Adams

There is a code of conduct, but, unfortunately, it is often broken. I do not know what the Liberals do in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but some concern has been expressed over such issues.

I am also concerned that people see MSPs differently under that system. They see directly elected MSPs as having a different role from list MSPs, and I do not like the idea of a two-tier system of MSPs—or MPs, for that matter. That would not be a good way to go. I welcome the commission that has been announced today, but I am a wee bit concerned about commissions taking decisions such as these. As I have said, I believe that it is the job of Governments to take such decisions. I worry that when the commissioners report their findings they will not suit everybody, so people will say they are a whitewash and that they knew that that was what they would say. However, I hope that everyone accepts that a commission is the best way of proceeding. I hope that it will produce a list of options for the Secretary of State, rather than a single proposal that becomes a fait accompli before it ever reaches the House.

6.10 pm
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

There has been considerable debate this afternoon about various electoral systems, which I shall address later in my remarks—but as for the electorate's ability to understand the electoral system, in my constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross the good electors have no trouble whatsoever understanding the electoral system. In fact, I was extremely taken aback to discover when canvassing for my MSP colleague, Jamie Stone, just how well they understood the system and the tactical voting lengths to which they went to make good use of their second vote.

Mr. Roy

If the hon. Gentleman's constituents understood the system so well, what was the turnout?

John Thurso

I cannot remember the exact turnout, but it was approximately 50 per cent.

I welcome the Bill, which is short and, I hope, sweet. However, I have some reservations. I welcome the Bill for one reason alone.

Mr. Sarwar

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Thurso

If the hon. Gentleman will give me half a chance, I shall give way to him shortly.

I welcome the Bill because it gives effect to the Government's promise to maintain the number of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, thereby maintaining the status quo.

Mr. Sarwar

I accept that the hon. Gentleman advocates proportional representation, because it benefits the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists. However, I am at a loss to explain why he supports having four different voting systems for elections for councils, the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and the European Parliament. I believed that the Liberal Democrats were concerned about different voting systems.

John Thurso

If the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to let me get past my opening remarks, he would discover that I do not support our having four voting systems. I hope that he will permit me to develop that argument in a moment.

The current proportional system does not favour the Liberal Democrats. If we do the maths, we can see that other systems are slightly better. However, the critical point is that proportionality benefits the electors, and that is what we should be thinking most about. It was apparent to most of us who were involved in the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 that a drop of almost 20 per cent. in the number of MSPs would almost certainly be unworkable. There were widespread reports at the time that the then Scottish Office and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, wished to amend section 86 and other relevant provisions to decouple the Scottish parliamentary constituencies from Westminster constituencies. Indeed, I can confirm that in a private conversation that I had with Donald Dewar after the passage of the Act, he admitted as much.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman's recollection is exactly the same as mine, because I had exactly the same private conversations. However, the key point that people made was that imposing a number on an unwilling Scottish Parliament would be inconceivable. Does that not demonstrate that this discussion should be repatriated to the Scottish Parliament?

John Thurso

I shall not get into an argument about repatriation, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Whether the matter is dealt with here or in the Scottish Parliament, it is inconceivable that it should be done without consultation and a consensus in Scotland.

John Robertson

As someone who took over Donald Dewar's constituency, and as a friend, I find that people rewrite history only after someone is dead. The rewriting of history never took place when that person was alive. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why those private conversations have suddenly come out, because they did not when the man was alive?

John Thurso

Other people were present when that conversation took place, and after our debate I would be happy to tell the hon. Gentleman to whom he could speak.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

It is important to know what Donald Dewar is alleged to have said. What did he actually say?

John Thurso

He gave me the impression that he would prefer the matter to be decoupled and the numbers maintained, but had lost the argument in Cabinet.

Mr. Roy

The hon. Gentleman says that Donald Dewar gave him that impression. Does that mean that he said those words, or did the hon. Gentleman just take it that that was what he meant?

John Thurso

That was my understanding of a conversation that took place in 1998—they are not the exact words.

I should like to make some progress. It comes as no surprise that this matter has required attention, and it is to the Government's credit that they have sought to remedy an obvious error. The Bill has certain merits, and I shall deal with two that strike me. First, it is commendably short—I always like short legislation—and secondly, without question, it does the job that it is intended to do, which is to maintain the status quo at Holyrood. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I therefore welcome it. However, the Government may have missed an opportunity to take a longer look at the way in which the electoral system in Scotland operates, and they could have introduced proposals to address the problem. However, the announcement by the Secretary of State today is extremely helpful, and I welcome his comments. I look forward to reading them in Hansard to make sure that I have understood his announcement.

It makes sense, however, for an independent commission to look at coterminosity and methods of election as soon as is practicable. I welcome the fact that, as I hope, the commission will begin work this year, and that its membership will be independent. I very much hope that it will stick with two key principles in the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention—that a broad consensus will be sought, and that the commission will adhere to proportionality in representation. The Secretary of State made it clear in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) that those two principles would be included in the commission's brief, or guiding principles.

My hon. Friends and I have long argued for the merits of the single transferable vote, and shall continue to do so. In addition to the obvious merit of being the most proportionate and fair system, it would, if adopted, have the added attraction of mirroring the proposed system for local government in Scotland, and dealing with the issue of coterminosity. However, I shall leave that for today, and look forward to submitting our evidence to the commission.

The report on the subject by the Scottish Affairs Committee is both timely and germane, and I am glad that we have had an opportunity to see it before the debate. First, it makes it abundantly clear that there is widespread support for maintaining the numbers. The proposal was backed by my party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Scottish Parliament and the Executive, which is as broad a consensus as is possible in politics. The reason for that broad consensus is simple—it is the experience of the Scottish Parliament in action, particularly the Committee system, which everyone agrees has worked extremely well, and simply could not function satisfactorily with many fewer Members.

Mr. Andrew Turner

Will the hon. Gentleman explain, for the benefit of my constituents, why 100,000 Scots electors need five Members of Parliaments—and I mean Parliaments, in the plural—to represent them, whereas the constituents of the Isle of Wight need only one? [Interruption.] I know that that question has been asked before, but we did not get an answer.

John Thurso

I will leave the explanation to the hon. Gentleman's constituents to him. If I were in his seat, I would be looking to have proper representation for England. He should be asking why should the people of England have less representation than the people of Scotland, not saying that English Members are disadvantaged compared with those in Scotland. That is the answer to the West Lothian question, as we said in the debate on that question in the Chamber not long ago.

As the hon. Gentleman and others have observed, there was only one exception to the broad consensus that existed in Scotland. and that was the Scottish Conservative party, which wished the relevant provision in the current Act to remain in force. The Conservatives have made an amazing U-turn. They argued throughout the passage of the Scotland Bill in this House and the other place that the proposed reduction in numbers was wrong. One of my abiding memories from having been in another place is of watching Lord Sewel as he gamely attempted to fend off the penetrating arguments of Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who, sadly, is no longer with us. Lord Sewel may have rebutted Lord Mackay's arguments in that way because he was not particularly convinced of the arguments that he was trying to advance at the time.

Out of interest, I referred to the House of Lords Hansard for 22 October 1998. After a long, cogent, well argued and structured speech comprehensively debunking the idea of reducing numbers, Lord Mackay said in summation: Therefore, I cannot think of anything dafter for the Government to do than to say to this parliament, 'You can start off with 129 members, but when the House of Commons inevitably reduces that number to about 58 Scottish members…your numbers will be reduced in a similar manner—"'. He added: I hope that the Government are going to listen and amend the Bill accordingly because nothing short of that will do." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 1600.] What has changed?

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

Perhaps the rationale behind the Conservative position now—and then—is that whenever it sees change proposed, and whatever that change is to be, it is against it.

John Thurso

I think that my hon. Friend is trying to say that the Conservatives are a tad opportunistic.

Lord Mackay and I disagreed on many things in politics, but on the occasion to which I have referred we were in accord. Later, when I moved an amendment to deal with the anomaly, I was delighted to see that all the Conservative Members of the other place followed me into the Lobby to support it. It was duly passed in another place. I regret that we were unable to achieve the same feat in this place, and it was duly removed by this House.

As I have said, I often disagreed with Lord Mackay, but I respected him both as a man and a parliamentarian. I believe that he was right in October 1998, and that nothing has changed except the current Scottish Conservative party, which seems hellbent on swapping obscurity for lunacy.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

On a couple of occasions the hon. Gentleman has mentioned friends and colleagues who are no longer with us. In the wake of the private conversations that he had with them, did either of them ever mention the hokey-cokey politicians who cannot make up their minds whether they will stay in this Parliament or in the Scottish Parliament?

John Thurso

Everything that I have quoted from Lord Mackay is in Hansard. As for the hokey-cokey, I remember that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said that as long as you were in the Chair there would be no hokey-cokey in this Chamber. I think we will leave it at that.

There clearly is nothing dafter than maintaining the reduction, and the Government are right to have addressed that point.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman has been having a little bit of fun about the Conservative party's position now compared with its stance during the passage of the Scotland Bill. He should acknowledge that Lord Mackay in the House of Lords and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) in the House of Commons both made the point that the numbers should be reduced in the Scotland Bill—that is, that the Bill, as it went through Parliament, was wrong.

John Thurso

The hon. Lady is right, inasmuch as the noble Lord argued that whatever numbers we started off with, we should continue with them. I think that if Lord Mackay were here today he would maintain that position. Undoubtedly he would have preferred to start with 108. However, given the choice of 129 reducing to 108 or 129 continuing, he made it clear that he wanted to stay with the 129.

The Scottish Affairs Committee's report deals with coterminosity. All the evidence clearly shows that coterminosity is highly desirable, particularly for political organisers. It is also extremely convenient for the electors. In the short term, the status quo envisaged in the Bill is therefore the lesser of two evils, but in the longer term it must be right and desirable to achieve conterminous boundaries.

There is clearly far less consensus on voting systems, as has been evidenced this afternoon. The recommendation of the Committee, while clearly interesting and deserving of serious consideration, does not, in my opinion, maintain the concept of proportionality. However, I can see how that might be varied. As the proposal is currently written, four voting systems would still be involved. I suspect—perhaps the remarks made this afternoon confirm this—that the Committee's attention was more focused on reducing the interference that it perceives from this place than on what might be the best voting system.

I have already welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement bringing forward the review. I will leave it at that on electoral systems, because, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I look forward to advancing the argument for the single transferable vote when the commission starts its work.

The Conservatives have tabled an amendment that a short while ago their colleagues would, as I have recounted to the House, have described as daft. Of all the opportunistic mumbo jumbo that has emanated from the Opposition Dispatch Box, this one takes the biscuit. We are invited to oppose the Bill, despite the support for it in all other quarters, because it is said not to address the proliferation of politicians in Scotland. What proliferation? What are we talking about? We are talking about either maintaining the status quo—that can hardly be described as a proliferation—or reducing the number by about 21 persons. How many politicians are there in Scotland, even with us, local councillors and MSPs? There must be 1,000 or more. If a reduction of 21 in 1,000 is a proliferation, I fail to see the logic.

Mr. Peter Duncan

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a vigorous campaign of surgeries in his constituency. If he were to ask people attending those surgeries whether there were too many politicians in Scotland or too few, what does he think most of them would say?

John Thurso

Most of my constituents would simply like to get something done by the politician to whom they are speaking—and I have never concerned myself about the Conservative list MSPs who parachute in from time to time.

The proliferation that the Conservatives choose to talk about is inexplicable, unless they are seeking to sabotage the devolution settlement and go back to the days before there was a Scottish Parliament. The amendment that they tabled makes no sense. Either the Conservative party still does not accept devolution or the amendment is illogical.

The Bill is short. It is, I hope, an interim measure before moving on to sunnier pastures, and I hope that that period will be short and sweet. It does not go quite as far as my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like, but it does the job and starts the process, and for that reason we welcome it and will vote for it.

6.30 pm
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) (Lab)

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) started his speech by telling us about the wonderful plaudits for proportional representation. He said that PR benefits the public. I will tell the House who PR benefited at the last Scottish Parliament elections. The party that 86 per cent of the people voted against decided who would be the First Minister. That is what PR did for the people of Scotland. Those who argue the case for PR should remember that very simple fact.

Mr. Salmond

Did it come to the wrong decision?

Mr. Hood

It certainly did not, but I did not agree with some of the arguments that were put forward in support of that decision. I certainly did not support the move for PR for local government. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to put that on the record.

I, too, should like to put on record a bit of history. We have had some history from the Secretary of State tonight and from others. I was fortunate to be present for a lot of the discussions on the various electoral systems, and, as most Labour Members will know, the Labour party was dragged into supporting PR at the Scottish convention. Let me tell the House how the votes stacked up in the Scottish Executive when the decision was made. It was an equal vote and the chairman's casting vote decided it. The chairman at the time was a Member of Parliament from one of the Edinburgh constituencies. He is not with us, so I shall not name him. The Member of Parliament who was supposed to represent the Westminster Members of Parliament on the Scottish Executive, the overwhelming majority of whom were against PR, voted for PR against the wishes of his Westminster colleagues. Those Labour Members who, to put it politely, may wish to reconsider history, should remember that the Labour party is strongly against PR.

Sir Robert Smith

I accept that many in the Labour party are strongly against PR, but if the hon. Gentleman looks back at the history, was it not that those who believed that a Scottish parliament was essential to good governance in Scotland realised that the only way in which that could be delivered was by agreeing to PR to reassure the electorate in Scotland, particularly outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh, that they could vote for a Scottish parliament in the referendum? It was only by delivering PR that Labour, and people such as Donald Dewar, realised that we could finally get a Scottish parliament to look at legislation in Scotland.

Mr. Hood

In 1997, the Labour Government could have legislated for a Scottish Parliament with a first-past-the-post system and we would have had better governance in Scotland now than perhaps we have with the wishy-washy Liberals as part of the Executive.

To return to my trip down memory lane, the Labour party accepted—

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP)

That is new consensus politics, is it?

Mr. Hood

The Labour party accepted the consensus of the convention and went into the election promising to legislate, but with a caveat that we would put it to the people through a referendum, and it would be, to use the words of the much maligned Donald Dewar—unfairly so—the settled will of the Scottish people. It was the Scottish people who decided by an overwhelming vote in the referendum what the electoral system should be, and it was partly first past the post and partly PR.

What we are debating today does not honour the settled will of the Scottish people or the consensus on keeping PR. I get the distinct feeling that Labour Members have been sleepwalked, and I say to my friends and colleagues in the Scottish Parliament that the MSPs have been sleepwalked, into PR, which the Labour party would never have supported in the convention. That was never part of the negotiations in that settlement. I do not share the point of view of those who say that it was always the intention to keep the size of the Parliament at 129 Members and to change the electoral system.

There was a huge row when the Prime Minister and Lord Robertson, then the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, argued the case for the referendum. There were to be two votes, and I supported the argument for the referendum. I can remember telling the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, that I was supporting the call for the referendum to entrench the will of the Scottish people in the settlement. We argued for entrenchment because we were worried about a future Tory party coming in and undoing the Scottish Parliament, which we supported. Yet here we are debating a narrow change in the Scotland Act 1998, which those of us who strongly believe in first past the post—there are a number of us in Scotland, especially within the Scottish Labour party—think means that what we agreed to, which we supported in good faith, will be taken away from us, and I do not feel at all comfortable with that.

The reduction in the number of MSPs was part of that agreement. No one said to me at any time that they wanted to keep the same number of MSPs. Sacrosanct to me was the coterminosity of the constituency boundaries of the MSPs and the Westminster MPs, and that is so important today. For example, under the new boundaries there are two seats in Lanarkshire. One is Lanark and Hamilton, East and the other East Kilbride.

Mr. Roy

South Lanarkshire.

Mr. Hood

It is fair to draw that distinction, and I will too.

I shall speak slowly for emphasis. There has been talk of over-governance, but 19 MSPs will have a claim to the Lanark and Hamilton, East seat, and 19 MSPs will have a claim to the East Kilbride seat. How can we justify that so-called governance? We are not talking about over-governance. In moving away from what we originally agreed, we could be bringing ourselves into disrepute.

We had two consultations, because the first had to be extended for six months because no one was very interested. I have heard that there were 17 representations in support of the case for reducing the number of 129 Members. During the six-month extension, there was a considerable increase in the number of contributions.

Then we had the statement from my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) as Secretary of State for Scotland. One of the things in that statement that alarmed me, which I remember pointing out, was the setting up of the commission after 2007. I am pleased that the Secretary of State returned to that issue and spoke about setting up a commission straight away.

I share some of the views of my hon. Friends about this commission of the wonderful and good. I am sure that it will include experts and independent people, but I have yet to meet people who are independent but do not have a view on a range of issues. I do not want us to start hiring out—I borrow a phrase that I have heard in the House—the decisions of Parliament to commissions and committees. Decisions on legislation should be taken by the legislators. It is for us to take such decisions. There has obviously been an agreement with the Government to keep the 129 Members, and I have no difficulty with that, but the consequential changes in the electoral system must be looked at, and I do not think that they should be dealt with by independent commissions. I have no objections to such bodies having a look at those matters, but I must be firm in saying that it is a must that the decisions on whatever electoral system flows from the decision to keep the 129 Members should be for this Parliament and this Parliament alone. Such decisions should not be influenced by people who are outside Parliament, and even outside the Scottish Parliament. I hold that view very firmly indeed.

Mr. Sarwar

I support my hon. Friend 100 per cent. in saying that constituency boundaries for the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament should be coterminous. If the Electoral Commission came up with a proposal that gave us coterminous boundaries with proportionality, would he accept it?

Mr. Hood

No. I support the first-past-the-post system. Unless the system has a first-past-the-post ingredient, I shall certainly not support it.

Mr. Roy

Does my hon. Friend agree that, for many people, proportional representation is something that is spoken about by the chattering classes and not the ordinary men and women of Scotland? Does he think that, when the independent commission is formed, it will include miners, steelworkers, shipbuilders, doctors, nurses and housewives?

Mr. Hood

I would be pleasantly surprised if such people were included on the commission. Of course, I am sure that there will be no lawyers and so on!

I shall not support the Conservatives in their opportunistic approach. A fortnight ago tomorrow, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) said that he would not vote in principle on an English issue. I wonder how many English MPs will traipse through the Lobby this evening.

Mr. Peter Duncan

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the simple truth that the matter under discussion is not devolved to the Scottish Parliament? Higher education in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Hood

Having listened to the Secretary of State and read the Bill, I take the view that the decision will affect only the Scottish Parliament. That is my reading of the Bill, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman entirely understands that.

If the decision is that the 129 figure is sacrosanct, I want common boundaries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, on an excellent report and on raising all the issues. It is important that we have a first-past-the-post element and an element of proportionality, to keep faith with what was decided in the convention that was agreed before the Scotland Act took effect. Along with some colleagues, I hope to table amendments on that issue for consideration in Committee.

I wish to end my speech with a message for my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. When they get the opportunity to make representations to the august commission that is going to be set up, they should remember that the best way of preserving the rights of their representation and of keeping their job in that Parliament will be to support the system that still includes first past the post. Without that, they will be sleepwalking into a 100 per cent. PR system that will give the Liberals total power over their Parliament and which will not give that power to the people, where it should be vested.

6.46 pm
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con)

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, which has been somewhat hijacked by the announcement of the inquiry into the number of voting systems. I have a certain sympathy with the need for the commission, but I think that we will be doing down Scotland's education system if we suggest that the Scottish people cannot cope with four different voting systems. Perhaps it would be neater if the systems were the same, but I do not think that it is beyond the wit of Scots men and women to be able to cope with different voting systems, even in the same election.

The Secretary of State referred to this Bill as a small Bill. In my view, it will be the first of many such small Bills. While most of us in the Chamber would agree that the devolution settlement is here to stay, the Scotland Act 1998 is not perfect legislation, as the Bill before us indicates. Not very long ago, we saw the report from Lord Norton, which pointed out the difficulties in respect of any seriously robust mechanism for dispute resolution. We may well find, for instance, that the publication of the NHS tariff in England and Wales has a knock-on effect on the Scottish health service, which could lead to disputes with the Scottish Parliament and Executive. Section 28(7) of the 1998 Act states: This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland. That could cause difficulties in due course. That is why I think that this will be the first in a series of small Bills that will detain the House. We should not be complacent about the finality of the settlement.

Mr. Carmichael

I am anxious to explore why the hon. Lady thinks that the power of this place to legislate on Scottish matters should be a source of difficulty. Does she anticipate that, perhaps under some future Government, this place will seek to legislate on an otherwise devolved matter in defiance of the Scottish Parliament?

Mrs. Lait

I am happy to deal with that point. Indeed, that is why I cited the NHS tariff, which could have a knock-on effect on the Scottish health service. Under the 1998 Act, the Scottish Parliament controls the delivery of the Scottish health service, so it may have a difficulty with the way in which the tariff interacts with the Scottish health system. As time passes and different policies are introduced, perhaps under different parties, there will be no reason why such difficulties should not emerge, and they will have to be dealt with one way or another.

I take great pleasure in supporting my Front-Bench colleagues in opposing the Bill. I am not doing that entirely because of the arguments made during the passage of the Scotland Act. I thought it was a mistake that the Government were not prepared to decide that the number of MSPs should be a responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. That showed that the Government were not quite prepared to treat the Scottish Parliament as a grown-up Parliament.

Mr. Salmond

Hear, hear.

Mrs. Lait

I would hate to give any comfort to the Scottish National party, because I recognise that that is its policy.

Sir Robert Smith

The hon. Lady says that she will vote against the Bill but feels that it should be up to the Scottish Parliament to decide what size that Parliament should be. The Scottish Parliament has asked for this Bill to be passed. If she believes that the Scottish Parliament should be listened to, should she not listen to it and vote for the Bill?

Mrs. Lait

I said that the Scottish Parliament should make the decision, not this House. The Labour Government did not have the courage of their convictions in giving the Scottish Parliament that power.

Mr. Salmond

Just because the Labour Government do not have the courage of their convictions is no excuse for the hon. Lady not to have the courage of hers. By a massive majority, the Scottish Parliament wants to stay at 129. Why will she not support it?

Mrs. Lait

In my view, the Scottish Parliament has not had a true opportunity to examine the reduction in numbers. That is not the principal reason why I am against the Bill; the key reason is that I believe in smaller government.

Mr. Donohoe

Given that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have been unable to give the numbers they are proposing, will the hon. Lady do so?

Mrs. Lait

If the hon. Gentleman took part in the Scottish Parliament elections, he will remember that we made it clear how we believed the Scottish Parliament should be structured. We believed that the number of first-past-the-post Members should be reduced to the same number as the Westminster constituencies. There should then be a top-up of 49 from the list system, making 108. We also said that we could not understand why 22 Ministers were required in Scotland. I used to work in the Scottish Office in the good old days when four Ministers managed to run all the legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "The poll tax?"] I should point out that I worked there when the Labour Government were in power between 1974 and 1979. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is that why they lost?"] I would love to think that one civil servant could have that impact on a Labour Government; they imploded in the same way as this one is imploding.

In terms of the way in which legislation is dealt with in the Scottish Parliament, there is an argument for more Ministers; we argued for eight. We argued also for a reduction in the number of Committees in the Scottish Parliament. We believe that Scotland is over-governed and there are too many politicians. Approximately 10 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom live in Scotland, but there are 129 MSPs compared with 659 Members here; that proportion is equivalent to about 20 per cent. Scotland would benefit from a reduction in the number of politicians, which is why we oppose the Bill.

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Lady says that it is her party's policy to make the number of Members here the same as the number of constituency MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Is she telling my constituents that she will end the separate representation of Orkney and Shetland? My constituents would be interested to hear that.

Mrs. Lait

I apologise; that was a small slip. I thank the hon. Gentleman for correcting me. However, the principle remains the same.

The support expressed for the retention of 129 MSPs brings to mind a phrase that no one has yet quoted, concerning trotters and troughs. Over the past two years, there has been huge criticism in Scotland of the number of MSPs and people believe that the Parliament would benefit from a reduction in numbers.

Many people have talked about the difficulty of coterminosity. I sympathise with those who are dealing with, potentially, 19 Members of both Parliaments. That must be difficult, but it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to work with those numbers. To a much lesser extent, all of us are dealing with coterminosity problems because, as a result of proportional representation, we have to deal with a multiplicity of Members of the European Parliament.

Mr. Roy

The hon. Lady says that it is not beyond the wit of man to work with 19 MSPs. Is she saying that we should keep the same number? That is not what she was saying earlier.

Mrs. Lait

I was sympathising with the difficulty of dealing with a multiplicity of Members of the Scottish Parliament and of this Parliament; I talked about "Parliaments". In my constituency of Beckenham, I have to deal with eight MEPs; not as many as 19, or the 15 that that might be reduced to. However, there is a problem of coterminosity throughout the system, largely because—here I agree with the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood)—of proportional representation. If we got rid of PR, we would not have coterminosity problems. With first past the post, all these problems iron themselves out. I do not have a problem with the first-past-the-post system; neither do the Conservatives. The foreign importation of PR is causing a lot of problems.

Mr. Roy

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Lait

Have I confused the hon. Gentleman again?

Mr. Roy

Slightly. If the hon. Lady is saying that the first-past-the-post system is not a problem and that she agrees with it, why does she not say that the whole of the Scottish Parliament should be elected according to that arrangement?

Mrs. Lait

If I were a purist, I could be tempted down that route. I am tempted also to compare the opinion polls now with those before the last parliamentary elections, but I will resist. I support the first-past-the-post system for all elections and I have sympathy with hon. Members who talk about coterminosity. I cannot see how the proposed election system will sort out that issue. However, it is much more important to give better governance to the Scottish people, and that will come about by reducing the number of MSPs. That is why I will be voting against the Government.

Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab)

Are you making the point that you want to decide today to reduce the number of MSPs, but that you want to give the Scottish Parliament the decision on whether it should retain the figure of 129?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am not seeking to make any decisions. I think the hon. Gentleman means the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Lait

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would suggest that the issue before us today is that of the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament. On that basis, I shall vote against the Bill, because it maintains that number.

No hon. Member—other than the Secretary of State, for which I give him credit—talked about the second part of the Bill, which deals with boundaries and the demise of the boundary commissions. That is covered by the legislation on the Electoral Commission. Nevertheless, it is a great shame that the boundary commissions are disappearing, given their very high reputation for impartiality. I hope that the breadth of responsibilities assumed by the Electoral Commission will not in any way, shape or form impinge on the boundary commissions, which have done such a good job for us throughout the country over many years.

On those grounds, I will vote with the Opposition tonight to oppose the maintenance of the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament.

7.1 pm

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) (Lab)

I need hardly say that I shall not be joining the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye—

Mrs. Lait

I am hugely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but my constituency is Beckenham—it used to be Hastings and Rye.

Mr. Wilson

I apologise to the hon. Lady—I have clearly been here too long. She has refreshed my memory; I now remember that she was first burned in effigy, then voted out in Hastings.

I am afraid that this is the last point at which I can bring much comfort to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend, whom I do not hold responsible in any way for what we face, and who is doing his best to bring some sort of reason and order to a very bad job. However, questions must be asked and fundamental criticisms made regarding how we got here.

Usually, when a Bill comes before the House it can be argued for, however misguidedly, on the ground that it advances the public interest in some way. However, this Bill is the exception: I cannot find any conceivable public interest that will be served by it. On the contrary, it is, as we all know, simply the legislative follow-up to a political fix. The problem that initially confronted us was quite straightforward. Our Government had made two relevant commitments, both of which I accepted and subscribed to: first, to cut the number of Scottish MPs being returned to Westminster; and, secondly, to amend the number of MSPs sitting in the Scottish Parliament in the same proportion.

So far, so good. If proceeded with in conjunction, those measures would have enjoyed general public support, apart from a few bleatings from the political fringes in Scotland. The problem is that the second commitment was reneged on to appease those political fringes and their vociferous supporters among the Scottish chattering classes. However, going ahead with the first commitment and abandoning the second is not a victimless solution. Without doubt, our two commitments were interdependent in their logic and symmetry: if one is abandoned, the other makes no sense, or, at the very least, will have to be paid for in another way.

I feel sufficiently exercised to speak in this way on a Government measure because I believe that the confusion that will be created by abandoning the second part of the Government's commitment will be paid for by the people whom we are all supposed to be here to represent. That is the nature of the fix that has been entered into. In order to avoid reducing the number of MSPs, further confusion will be heaped gratuitously on to the old, the frail and the vulnerable, who from time to time need to consult their elected representatives. In arriving at that fix, no member of the political classes gave a single thought to those people—our constituents. That, I regret to say, has been the spirit of the debate. With the exception of one brief reference by the Secretary of State, no mention has been made of the Bill's effects on the people who do not necessarily always want us, but sometimes need us.

There is already a great deal of confusion in Scottish politics about the delineation between reserved and devolved matters, although most of us can help to overcome that problem simply by sharing offices and providing what amounts to a joint service—admittedly, not in every part of Scotland, but in most parts. Further confusion is created by that curious breed of humanity, list MSPs, who, to all intents and purposes, have no constituencies and no constituents. Some of them find that extremely satisfactory, for obvious reasons, and do not trouble anyone; others are Walter Mitty characters who set themselves up as alternative MSPs in specific constituencies and tout for business from the unwary. However, as long as there are recognisable constituencies, the vast majority of people in Scotland at least know which constituency they live in and who their elected constituency representatives are—where to go and to whom to go. Now, gratuitously and for no good reason, even that safeguard of the public interest is casually to be dispensed with. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Scotland will find themselves in one constituency for Westminster purposes and another constituency for Holyrood purposes. Constituencies where MPs and MSPs work well together to give an integrated service will be split two, three or even four different ways. As we have heard, some Westminster constituencies will be shadowed, for devolved purposes, by up to 20 MSPs. The whole thing is ludicrous—and entirely unnecessary, because all we had to do was stick to the two original commitments.

What I find really offensive about this episode is not some abstract political aspect, nor any of the stuff that has been bandied about this evening, but the complete lack of regard for the consumer interest. It has been all about politicians looking for a way out of a minor political dilemma that will cause the least inconvenience to other politicians: never mind the punters who have to track down the person who can be of use to them at a particular time; never mind the view that the public will take of a new system that might have been designed for the sole purpose of confusing them and bringing political representation into further disrepute; and never mind the highly relevant fact cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), that 15 per cent. of voters have been driven away from the polls by the confusions already created in Scottish politics.

The horse must be put back in front of the cart—the anomalies must be addressed in advance of the changes being made, not at some dim and distant point in the future. That is where I disagree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). He spent half his speech talking about the virtues of coterminousity—or coterminality, or whatever term happens to be in fashion tonight—but we are introducing legislation that will abolish that virtue. This is not a done deed—we are setting up a commission to revise what has not yet been legislated for. Would it not be better to do things in chronological order by addressing the problems before they have been created?

All along, the starting point for this exercise should have been that the boundaries remain the same for Westminster and Holyrood: non-negotiable, full stop. That was the way in which to concentrate minds, and that is what we should still do.

Mr. Salmond

Surely, as the Secretary of State said, there are already problems in relation to different electoral systems. Any of us might share the hon. Gentleman's thoughts about the list system—which, after all, was introduced by the Government in whom he served—but are we not being offered the prospect of some of those difficulties being attended to?

Mr. Wilson

I respectfully suggest that acceptance of that proposition displays some naiveté on the hon. Gentleman's part; and I suspect that if there is one thing that he does not like being accused of, it is that. To me, the commission sounds like a classic Sir Humphrey mechanism. One can imagine the discussion that took place: "We are creating a shambles—what are we to do? We'll set up a commission. When will the commission report? After the shambles has been created." I revert to my original point—why not get the chronology right and sort everything out before the shambles is created?

I have no quarrel with the remit or the outcome of the boundary commission review of Scottish seats, but it is not too late to say that it will be implemented only when a compatible formula, based on coterminal constituency boundaries, has been agreed for the Scottish Parliament.

I do not believe that the figure of 108 is any more sacrosanct than 129. If people want 130, 150 or 170 seats, I do not care very much. Electoral systems can be devised to satisfy any of those numbers. However, the system must be created on the basis of the same boundaries for both elections. I am not, therefore, devising a way of getting rid of 21 MSPs, although I doubt whether maintaining, under all circumstances, 129 MSPs is a great popular cause in Scotland. If that is the stumbling block, there are other methods of dealing with it. However, the way is not to destroy one of the few things that provide political and representational comprehension in Scotland: the fact that we have the same boundaries, the same offices and the same representation.

I repeat that I do not blame my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I ask him to consider the course that I have outlined if it is the only way to force progress on the wider issue, and not to implement the Bill until coterminality has been sorted out. Surely there can be unanimity in the parties in Scotland: whatever the perceptions of marginal short-term political advantage or disadvantage, we do not want to legislate to establish an electoral system that we all know will work to the practical, and in some cases serious disadvantage, of our constituents.

If, even at this late stage, we do not stop to contemplate the essential stupidity of what is being done, people in Scotland who are adversely affected by the measure will have a long time to wonder how politicians could create a total mess out of something that should be as straightforward and comprehensible as possible.

7.12 pm
Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

It is a pleasure and a privilege to take part in the first debate on the Scotland Act since it was passed in 1998. We follow many illustrious speakers in the debates on that measure, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), and many Labour Members. It is unfortunate that the way in which the Bill is framed means that we have no opportunity to discuss the many pertinent issues that affect the Scottish Parliament. An opportunity has been lost.

With due respect to the Secretary of State, the debate is a little hypothetical. We are working on the assumption that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament will be reduced at the next general election. However, no one has said definitively that that will happen. Let us imagine that a general election takes place in two months—that was entirely possible a few weeks ago. We would fight with the existing boundaries. What would happen in 2007? On what sort of membership would we fight an election for the Scottish Parliament? There are many questions to ask. Our debate is based on an assumption that the number of Members of Parliament will be reduced. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to tell us when she replies to the debate whether we shall fight the next general election under existing boundaries.

This first debate on the Scotland Act since it was passed is timely. The Scottish Parliament is at a crossroads and faces severe challenges. It has lost the confidence of the Scottish people, and we should be considering many other subjects, instead of wasting time on coterminosity and voting arrangements. We wanted to introduce a series of amendments that would give the Scottish Parliament new powers. It is unfortunate that we will not have an opportunity to do that.

I examined the Scottish social attitudes survey, which has appeared in several newspapers, and the Scottish people appear to be two or three steps ahead of the Government and the Scottish Executive, because their solution to some of the Scottish Parliament's difficulties is to increase its powers. The overwhelming majority of the Scottish people who took part in the survey suggested giving the Scottish Parliament more powers as a method of tackling its difficulties. Every survey that has been conducted appears to yield the same results: people believe that the Scottish Parliament needs more powers to meet the genuine expectations that the Scottish public had when it was established.

I was impressed with the debate that we held in the Scottish Grand Committee a couple of months ago on a Liberal Democrat motion about the evolution of the devolution settlement. Much good came out of that. We did not agree on many things, but we all signed up to one overriding statement: devolution is a process, not an event. We might have difficulty in defining where the process ends—that is a legitimate debate, which it is right to hold—but I listened carefully and eagerly to Labour Members, and they too said that devolution was not an event but a process. We might be different from hon. Members of other parties because we are impatient for the process to continue. We want some progress to show that devolution is a process. I hope that we shall get there.

I am sure that the Secretary of State has been impressed by some of the debates in the Scottish Parliament. Even some notable and eminent Labour MSPs now believe, along with so much of Scottish civic society and the business community, that the Scottish Parliament needs greater fiscal and economic powers. We have a notable new recruit to that campaign in the shape of Robert Crawford, the former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab)

The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised at Mr. Robert Crawford's return to the Scottish National party fold.

Pete Wishart

I am not sure about that, but we cannot ignore the views of someone who ran Scottish Enterprise and knows much about what the Scottish economy requires and what makes it tick.

We will support Second Reading. We believe that a minimum of 129 MSPs is required to ensure that the Scottish Parliament runs efficiently and effectively. All the political parties—apart from the Conservative party—are signed up to that figure. I was impressed by some of the evidence that was given to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs when the question was put. Many people said that 129 MSPs were required to make the effective Committee system work. It was identified as one of the Scottish Parliament's strengths. Its pre-legislative scrutiny is one of the most valuable aspects of work in the Scottish Parliament. The Select Committee report clearly concluded that 129 MSPs were required.

There are honourable exceptions in the Labour ranks who do not support the figure of 129, and we have heard some contributions from them this evening. I am thankful that they, in conjunction with the Conservatives, are lonely and isolated voices. I shall be interested to note how many Labour Members vote with Conservative Members, in alliance against the Scottish Parliament. As I said, they are isolated, forlorn voices.

It will surprise the Scottish public to find that the House of Commons determines the membership of the Scottish Parliament and that distant Westminster decides on its voting arrangements. Surely our national Parliament should have that task, and be able to determine its voting arrangements and membership.

Mrs. Adams

How many people in the hon. Gentleman's surgeries have asked him about that?

Pete Wishart

The hon. Lady might be surprised to learn that no one has asked me about such matters. However, MSPs are exercised by the question because the Scottish Parliament should be wary if the House legislates on its behalf about membership and voting arrangements. Surely a national Parliament should legislate on those matters. The Scottish Parliament is unique among national Parliaments in having to cede power on those matters to another national Parliament. That is not right.

We noted with interest the establishment of the Secretary of State's new commission to examine the arrangements. Like the Liberal Democrats, we are waiting for an invitation to serve on it. I read about the matter in The Herald today. I do not know why the Secretary of State did not tell the House before going to the newspaper. The commission appears to be a political fix. I sympathise with the Secretary of State because I know that he has a little local difficulty. On the one hand, hon. Members from the Scottish Labour ranks are determining the agenda about voting arrangements and the membership of the Scottish Parliament, and on the other, there is great anxiety among Labour MSPs who are worried about the activities of the crowd who sit behind the right hon. Gentleman. Labour MSPs should be worried about what Labour Members of Parliament are up to.

Mr. Donohoe

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the biggest problem in Scottish politics today is the list system? The list mainly consists of members of his party.

Pete Wishart

The list system may be the biggest problem in Scottish politics for the hon. Gentleman, but it certainly is not for me. There are much more important issues to address, and I wish that he would sometimes recognise that.

List Members have two key functions. One is to provide the proportionality required by the Scotland Act 1998. The second function, however, at which they seem to be effective, is to wind up Labour Members. They perform that task spectacularly, and Labour Members fall for it every time. I have a list Conservative Member in my constituency, who has set up an office in my constituency and sniffs around for any scrap of attention, but we deal with him effectively. He has stood previously against me and my SNP colleague, John Swinney, and we have beaten him in successive elections. That is no problem, but I can understand why it is a problem for Labour Members, because most of them have run their constituencies like personal fiefdoms. When an energetic, enthusiastic list Member appears and tries to do things, it is a real challenge to them. If we cannot rise above the challenge of energetic and enthusiastic list Members, perhaps we do not deserve a place in this House at all.

Mr. Hood

Does the hon. Gentleman think it right that a Conservative Member, or a member of any political party who has not been elected in his constituency by the will of the people, is allowed to spend taxpayers' money on funding offices to work against an elected person?

Pete Wishart

That is the very system for which the hon. Gentleman voted in the Scotland Act. It is a consequence of the decision that you took, and you must accept it. He may not have voted for it personally—[Interruption.] I am told from a sedentary position that he did. You voted for it, and you must accept the consequences.

Mr. Hood

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. First, let me make it clear that I never voted for anything. Secondly, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is giving way a second time.

Pete Wishart

I have looked at the amendments suggested by the Scottish Affairs Committee, which effectively propose the death knell of proportionality for the Scottish Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear hon. Members say, "Hear, hear." I know that that is their intention and their agenda. What I do not understand about the Scottish Affairs Committee report, which I have examined carefully, is that the great and the good came down to give evidence—all the political parties, all the local authorities, the whole of civil society in Scotland—but it is as if the Committee made up a conclusion different from the evidence that it took. Most of its conclusions fly in the face of the evidence that it was given. I suggest respectfully to members of the Scottish Affairs Committee that instead of getting the great and the good down from Scotland to give them evidence for an agenda on which they had already made up their mind, they should have just had the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) as the sole witness. Their conclusions would then probably have been much more credible.

I have studied the evidence given to the Committee, and nowhere does any witness come forward and say, "I think that the solution to Scotland's electoral problems is to have two-Member constituencies."None of them said that, and some of them would probably laugh in the face of anyone who suggested it to them. I am intrigued as to whether any of the later contributors to this debate will explain how it will work. We have heard Labour Members' hostility to PR. They loathe it and think that it is an absurd system—that is their point of view. I presume that in two-Member constituencies the winner and the runner-up will be elected to the Scottish Parliament. What a ridiculous way to elect a Parliament—regardless of the fact that my party would do quite well under such a system.

Mr. Hood

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it would be better if the winner and the candidate who came last were elected, as is the case under the list system at present?

Pete Wishart

I find the arrangement suggested by the Scottish Affairs Committee bizarre. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and explain how it works. It is like turning up to play the Scottish cup final, picking up the ball and deciding not to have a competition—both teams share the cup. It is a bizarre sort of first-past-the-post-plus.

Most of the witnesses to the Scottish Affairs Committee have little to say about coterminosity. Yes, most of them would like to see it happen, but it did not seem to be the defining issue for most of them, although the Scottish Affairs Committee concluded that it was the defining issue in Scottish politics. The public do not care a whit about coterminosity. It is not on their agenda at all. When I am out and about in Blairgowrie, members of the public do not come up to me to tell me how concerned they are about coterminosity. I have had a series of surgeries in the past few weeks throughout my North Tayside constituency, and I have not had anxious constituents coming to my surgery saying that they cannot sleep at night because the constituency boundaries of their MP and their MSP may be different.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Pete Wishart

I am sorry, but I have no more time. I have a big speech to make.

Yes, this is an issue for political parities, and it will present challenges for them. There are solutions, however. The Scottish National party has already framed solutions, and I am sure that with its resources and organisational ability, the Scottish Labour party can arrive at a solution, too, and I suspect that it will do so. People just do not care about this issue, however. For example, people in Pitlochry know that I am their MP—some of them might think that I am quite effective. People in Brechin, which is 50 miles away, also know that I am their Member of Parliament. It comes as a great surprise and shock to people in Brechin, however, to discover that I am the MP for Pitlochry, and people in Pitlochry are equally surprised to find that I am the MP for distant and remote Brechin. They could not care less, however, as long as they know who their MP is, know that their MP is effective, and know how he can be contacted. That is what concerns them most.

I was impressed by the Secretary of State's evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, because he concluded that that was also true in city centres. People in city centres do not know where one boundary ends and the other begins—those were his words, and he is right. He gave a very good example: somebody could move through his Edinburgh, Central constituency and arrive at George square believing that they were in his constituency, but they would be in the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz). Nobody knows where constituency boundaries are. They are boundaries that exist in the heads of politicians. The public could not care less.

Mr. Andrew Turner

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Pete Wishart

No, I am sorry. I have only a few minutes.

What the Scottish Affairs Committee should have been doing was looking at the powers of the Scottish Parliament. As I said earlier, the Scottish Parliament is facing many severe challenges. It should be considering the sluggish economic growth in Scotland and the massive issues with which we must wrestle. What does it spend time doing? It has looked at the issue of coterminosity, taken all the evidence, rejected the evidence that it received, and come to its own conclusions. I suggest respectfully that it should have been doing something more important. We look forward to the Secretary of State's commission, but let us hope that it will not just be a political fix to settle the difficulties in the Labour party between Westminster Members and Edinburgh Members.

7.27 pm
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)

I intend to be brief to allow more of my colleagues to speak in the debate.

My first regret is that in the euphoria of the election campaign and afterwards in 1997, when the Bill that became the Scotland Act 1998 came to the House, I and some of my colleagues did not pay more attention to some of its content. If we had understood that we were going to sleepwalk into a situation in which we would be crawled all over by list Members, we would have looked at the Bill in a very different way. Tonight, we have the first stage of the opportunity to try to address that. On the basis of what the Secretary of State said in his statement, that process will be allowed to start.

I commend to the House the Select Committee's report, as I believe, and have done for some considerable time, that the main problem in Scotland—

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman may recall that I am very much in favour of proportional representation, and I have never thought that a regional list was a particularly good system. In relation to his solution, however, if he is concerned about list Members crawling all over this constituency, how much more would the person who came second want to crawl all over his constituency?

Mr. Donohoe

That person would be entitled to do so, but the responsiblities of the list Member were never defined as they should and probably could have been in that Act. That was a fundamental flaw. To a great extent, if that had been addressed, we would not be here tonight facing this quandary.

I suspect that few people in my constituency and probably throughout Scotland, apart from the chattering classes, are unduly concerned about the number of MSPs, or indeed the number of MPs. What concerns people, and what is more important, is the delivery of a service. They care about education, the NHS, the economy and employment levels, and to that extent the Labour party has indeed delivered, both down here and in Edinburgh. What they will not recognise is the existence of some magic in the requirement for 129 MSPs to be retained, or in the method adopted for their election. Not one ordinary constituent has complained to me about the way in which the present system affects him or her—because it does not affect my constituents at all. What it does is create confusion in the minds of the public. As has been said, the big problem relates to who represents the public in the Scottish Parliament and in this Parliament.

Why have we found ourselves in this position? While the Scotland Act 1998 was being debated, it was made clear that coterminous boundaries would be maintained. Only now do we find that what has happened since then is leading us towards a problem. I foresee a major problem, and have for some time. For some time I have argued forcefully, in any forum that has allowed me to do so, about the whole question of coterminosity, because I cannot accept any other arrangement.

All today's speeches so far, apart from those of SNP Members, have suggested that there is much to be said for coterminous boundaries. Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have expressed that view; the SNP is out on a limb, but we know that its sole aim is to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Aspects of the independent commission also worry me. Although it has been said that the time scale will be as limited as possible, we have been told nothing more about it; nor has the Secretary of State told us how many members the commission will have, and where they will come from. He must clarify both those points before he receives the support that would otherwise be forthcoming.

As I have said, we have heard many arguments today about possible systems, such as proportional representation and the single transferable vote, but I do not think that the Bill's narrow drafting even allows for such arguments. It allows only for simple clauses dealing with coterminosity, and I want to concentrate on that rather than those other questions, or the question of reduction. I must point out, however, that the arithmetic of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), or that of the Tory party, is not very good. The hon. Gentleman says that, under his preferred system, there would be about 108 MSPs. According to a simple calculator, the figure is 104.26. I would not like to say who the 0.26 would be, but maintaining proportionality would require some 45 additional Members. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got the figure that he gave.

Mr. Peter Duncan

There is a straightforward explanation. The fact that Orkney and Shetland are separate constituencies results in a greater proportion of the total number of MSPs.

Mr. Donohoe

That does not add up. There are still four Members coming from somewhere in the system who are unaccounted for.

I want to simplify the position. I have heard many arguments about what is possible, but I want to concentrate on what is feasible. Something must be put together that will be accepted not just by my colleagues and me, but by the mainstream in the Chamber and outside. I believe that allowing two MSPs per Westminster constituency would simplify everything, although Orkney and Shetland would remain separate. According to my arithmetic there would then be some 118 Members with a first-past-the-post system, if the commission adopted it. I do not want to close any doors in that regard. Then there are the additional Members. If there were 11, with six in one region and five in the other, we could maintain the total of 129, which seems to have been accepted by everyone.

7.37 pm
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)

I am beginning to feel a little sorry for the Secretary of State, who has had to sit there and be subjected to a barrage from his Back Benchers. Some of my comments may prove to be more supportive of his position than those of many members of the Scottish Labour party—although I hasten to add that I will be joining my colleagues in the Lobby to vote against the Bill.

In deciding whether to reduce the size of the Scottish Parliament from 129 Members to 108, we must establish whether it would still be able to scrutinise the Executive properly, whether the reduction would increase the value of Ministers to the detriment of both Government and Opposition Back Benchers, and whether—given that the Scottish Parliament is unicameral—it would be able to fulfil its roles adequately. No one has made a case for that so far today. I suspect that whether the Bill proves to be good or bad will depend on the Parliament's output. No doubt, during the Bill's progress, we shall hear more arguments of that kind rather than arguments about electoral systems in general.

Much of today's debate seems to have been concerned with the additional member system and the list. Many Members representing Scottish constituencies clearly find that system frustrating. That does not surprise me: during the passage of the Scotland Bill I made a number of speeches opposing it. I am a thorough believer in first past the post, for many fundamental reasons. I think that, partly owing to its simplicity but also because of the accountability it involves, it is the best system for the electorate.

I do not think that a lack of coterminosity matters greatly if there are no list Members. Many other countries manage without coterminous districts, although they use first past the post. Indeed, for more than 70 years Northern Ireland elected Members to this Parliament—the imperial Parliament, as it was then—and Members representing much smaller constituencies to Stormont, both under first past the post. Canadians elect a federal Parliament and state Parliaments. The ridings and the state parliamentary areas are very different, except in the case of Ontario.

John Robertson

When the Scotland Bill was being put together, coterminosity, in terms of constituencies, was one of the building blocks for the country. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that taking away those building blocks would leave the way open for the disintegration of the Union as we know it?

Mr. Syms

An argument made by many people when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed was that embedding Scottish representation in the Westminster constituencies would give rather more unity than the alternative system, but my point is that we do not necessarily have to have that system. The confusion is caused by having a list system, where several Members have an interest in lots of constituencies. It is perfectly possible to have different-sized constituencies, under first past the post, and proper parliamentary representation. In English constituencies, it is normal for county councillors to cover more than one parliamentary constituency; it does not make them bad county councillors, nor does it affect representation to this place.

In federal Parliaments, such as those in Canada and the United States, there are districts of different sizes, with the exception of Ontario. In Australia, Tasmania is the only state where districts are the same size—most others have different systems. In Germany, the Länder have different sized districts and there is AMS at both federal and state level. In the United States of America, which uses a first-past-the-post system, there are some bizarrely designed districts—there are all sorts of different sizes for all sorts of different offices—yet the system works pretty effectively.

I do not think that we need to have a fetish about coterminosity, but the electoral system is key. That is why AMS is causing problems north of the border, although, apart from first past the post, no other system would be preferable. However, there is no doubt about the problem and the Secretary of State is correct to look into the systems. There is a first-past-the-post system for Westminster, AMS for the Scottish Parliament and a list system for Europe and we may be moving towards a single transferable vote system for local government, which will cause confusion. The line taken by the Government has helped that confusion; for example, there was no need for them to bring in a list system for the European Parliament. I voted against that, as I preferred a first-past-the-post system.

The confusion will inevitably give rise to concern, which could lead to lower turnouts, because people will not understand the system. There is a big misconception in the AMS system. The second vote is more important than the first one, as the second vote determines the relative relationship of all the other parties. I was talking to the German ambassador about that point and even he had not realised it, yet under the German system the second vote is important.

Overall, it seems sensible to hold an independent inquiry into the relative systems, as, if possible, we do not want a proliferation of systems. It would have been better to go back to first past the post, which is a simpler and more accountable system. I do not necessarily believe that everything has to be coterminous; providing that the system is simple, we do not need the same districts for representation—I have given several examples of that.

On balance, I shall vote with my colleagues for 108 rather than 129, because I do not believe that the arguments have yet been made on scrutiny and on balance between the Executive and Back Benchers or about whether the Scottish Parliament would do a better job. Perhaps those arguments will be made in Committee.

Some aspects will add a political cost. If there are separate boundaries, we shall have to have separate reviews and separate electoral registers. A dual system will mean costs for local government north of the border and they will fall on the Scottish taxpayer. When Members vote, they should take account of the fact that duplication may have certain costs.

As many Members want to speak, I shall conclude my remarks.

7.43 pm
Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

The Scottish Affairs Committee took extensive evidence before it published its report. At the outset, may I refute the claim that the reports of the evidence did not match what we had heard? That was not the case. For example, on the 129-Member question, almost everyone who appeared before the Committee—whether from political parties or independent groups—came down in favour of retaining that number.

The report stated: During its evidence sessions, the Committee was not made aware of any good case for the current number of MSPs to be either reduced or increased. We are satisfied, therefore, that the number of MSPs should remain, for the time being, at 129. That exactly reflects the evidence that was given to the Select Committee.

What was important for the Committee was not the mechanics of the 129 figure, or the mechanics of coterminosity but whether any changes would hinder or assist the greater involvement of the electorate. Would the changes be voter friendly? Would they clarify issues for the electorate or would they confuse the electorate even further?

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) has made a consistent point throughout the debate. He has asked whether our constituents tell us that they are worried about coterminosity and the answer is that they do not. However, in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, they ask me, "John, why should the town of Kirkintilloch be split in two for the new Westminster constituency, but remain as one for the Scottish Parliament constituency?" That is how they ask questions about coterminosity. They ask, "Why should the villages of Lennoxtown, Milton of Campsie or Twechar be taken away from the Westminster constituency but remain in the Scottish constituency?".

Technically, those are arguments about coterminosity. That actual question is never asked, but people—quite properly—are interested in their local community and its past. For example, Kirkintilloch has never been split in its parliamentary history, but now it is being split for the Westminster constituency, while remaining whole for the Scottish Parliament. I agree that people do not say, "What about coterminosity?", but they ask pertinent and important questions about how their local communities are represented.

In its evidence to the Select Committee, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said: The creation of 59 Westminster Constituencies which do not have coterminous boundaries with 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies is likely to cause confusion among constituents who will be in different constituencies. No one will argue with that. There seems to be broad support for the view that that would be a major difficulty and a major problem.

Even non-political groups agreed. The Association of Electoral Administrators said: The lack of coincidence between Parliamentary Boundaries in Scotland is more likely to cause bewilderment for electors, especially those who reside in cross-boundary areas. That is not a political viewpoint; the association is independent and the administrators are politically objective. They know how to run elections and they clearly say that the lack of coterminosity could cause major problems.

In its recommendations, the Committee stated: Based on the evidence we have received, we recommend that, in order to avoid possible confusion, the constituency boundaries in Scotland for elections to the United Kingdom and to the Scottish Parliament should remain coterminous. The Committee did not reach that conclusion on its own; it was based firmly on the evidence that we heard.

Another issue that has been raised in the debate was the possibility of two Members from the Scotland Parliament being balanced in a Westminster constituency. The Committee said that our favoured option is to have 2 constituency MSPs for each new Westminster constituency, totalling 118 MSPs, with the remaining 11 MSPs being elected from a national list". As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) said, the Committee did not recommend how that should be done.

Mr. Weir

Is that not a difficulty with the report? I was a member of the Committee, and that recommendation did not seem to me to be backed up by the evidence. The report could have made a good point, but it chose to recommend the establishment of a commission and to suggest what it wanted the commission to find—the very thing that the Secretary of State was arguing against.

Mr. Lyons

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but the evidence before the Committee was overwhelmingly about the list. People were reasonably satisfied about the possibility that there would be two MSPs in each Westminster constituency; the big and continual criticism was about the list system—for good reason. Questions about the list system have been repeated in the debate today. We have a system for which there is no public support: a candidate can stand for direct election to the Scottish Parliament, come last out of four or five candidates, yet walk into the Scottish Parliament by the back door and take their seat.

That is clearly unacceptable to the Scottish people; they regard it as a fraud. It does not matter which political party gains by that system, or what it says about it; all of us should be embarrassed about it.

Mr. Hood

The agriculture Minister of the Scottish Parliament—Captain Mainwaring himself—little Ross Finney, stands for election in Greenock year after year and always gets trounced; indeed, he was trounced in the last two Scottish parliamentary elections. Does my hon. Friend share my amazement at the fact that every morning, the people of Greenock wake up. having trounced Ross Finney, only to find out that he is not only in the Scottish Parliament, but in the Scottish Executive?

Mr. Lyons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because this is clearly a problem. Such people can enter not only the Parliament but the Cabinet. The fact that such things can happen must be an affront to us all, and to the democratic process.

Angus Robertson

Just to be clear that the hon. Gentleman is not making a cheap partisan point, does he include in his criticism the third place candidate in the Scottish parliamentary elections in Moray, Mr. Peter Peacock? He is now serving as a Scottish Executive Minister, having been defeated as a Labour candidate in Moray by the Scottish National party; indeed, he even came behind the Tories.

Mr. Lyons

The point that I am making is an apolitical one: the system is not one that the Scottish people agree with. Those who come last in a direct election should not then be able to transfer to the list. If we are to have a list at all, there should be clear separation between those who want to stand in constituencies, and those who want stand in respect of the list.

I shall give a few facts and figures, which have been provided by the Library. In the 1999 election, 56 list MSPs were elected, 12 of whom were not fighting constituency seats. The remaining 44 had been defeated and then entered Parliament via the list system. We might think that a big enough affront to us all, but let us consider what happened in 2003. Of the 56 list MSPs elected in that year, 44 were losing candidates in constituency seats.

Pete Wishart

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I understand and appreciate his hostility towards list MSPs, but we have heard it all before, so it is not really new. Can he explain why he wants to have two-Member constituencies? We do not know how they will be elected, except for some vague reference to the Electoral Commission's deciding on such matters. Is it being suggested that the winner and runner-up will be selected for those constituencies? If so, that is a far more ridiculous idea, because whoever is directly defeated—be it by a majority of 800 or 8,000—will get to serve. Such a solution is 10 times worse than that of list Members.

Mr. Lyons

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands where I am coming from. I want to encourage more people to participate in elections for the Scottish Parliament, for Westminster and for the councils, but the fact is that the list system turns people off. According to the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), the Electoral Commission said the following of the question of the percentage: Opinion polling following the 2003 elections in Scotland…suggested that 13 per cent. of non-voters claimed that confusion over the voting systems being used led them not to vote". We cannot afford to allow 13 per cent. of that populace to turn away from elections. We need to encourage them, and to try to ensure that they participate in elections in the way that we would like.

Mr. Weir

I remember what was said well, because I questioned Mr. Younger at the time. The figure of 13 per cent. has gone into legend, but the hon. Gentleman should read on a little further in the report to discover what Mr. Younger said. He said that we should treat that figure with caution, and that there is quite a lot of experience of earlier polling that suggests that some of these reasons are those that people think are the ones which make it look more respectable for their not having voted". In other words, he was casting doubt on the robustness of the 13 per cent. figure. On the face of it, that figure is very bad, but perhaps it is not quite as bad as it looks.

Mr. Lyons

I am happy for any Member to say that they disagree, or that the figure is not robust enough; I am simply quoting the report and the polling organisation. I have no reason to think that the organisation has a jaundiced view of people participating in voting for the Scottish Parliament. I think it objective and fair, and I am prepared to accept its view. One might well argue that 13 per cent. is an underestimate of the number of people who do not vote because of confusion in the system. But as I said, the list system and its lack of accountability undermine the political and democratic process. It helps no politician if people have no trust or faith in it.

I am old-fashioned enough to think that you should elect the person whom you want to represent you in the Scottish Parliament. It is as simple as—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps referring to hon. Members in his use of the second person.

Mr. Lyons

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. People should have the opportunity to make that decision, which they make on their own. They do not rely on the list system to allow someone to get into the Scottish Parliament through the back door.

If we were to explain to students of higher modern studies or to first-year politics students that this is the system in the Scottish Parliament—

Mr. Tynan

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who condemn and deride a system through which those who come first and second in a constituency election are elected to the Scottish Parliament have to examine why it should be that someone who comes fourth in a list system, for example, can be successful?

Mr. Lyons

I am grateful for that intervention. There is no logic to the case made by those who argue that there is a major problem with the election of those who come first and second, or even with the creation of two separate seats. I am quite happy to go along with the list and all that that means, but the fact that we should have the system in question offends us all as democrats, irrespective of whether Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or any given party gains.

The report points one way forward. It is not the solution, but if nothing else it lays a foundation for discussing proposals and recommendations that we can consider in future. That, if nothing else, is a worthy conclusion.

David Hamilton

It is extremely important that constituents understand who their Member is. First and second past the post is a very important issue. Through such a system, people can say to their Member, "You're to blame for not doing this", or "Thank you for doing that." Under a list system, that does not happen. The former system would provide clarification.

Mr. Lyons

I am sure that it would. I am clear in my mind that the list is offensive to all democrats, and we should make that point clear.

7.57 pm
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which, as the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) reminded us, is our first opportunity to revisit the Scotland Act 1998 on the Floor of the House. Indeed, it has been a good debate. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is not in his place, because his was one of the best contributions so far. I did not agree with a lot of it, but he made a powerfully argued and cogent case that demonstrated a certain and welcome independence of mind. I heard him speak on Friday's "Today" programme about the remit of the gas and electricity markets regulator in a similarly independent manner. I never heard him speak in that way when he was Minister with responsibility for energy, but we will leave that to one side for the moment.

As I said, however, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North because he seems to be unduly concerned with starting points. He says that we are in a muddled situation. I have no difficulty in agreeing that we are not necessarily in the best starting place, but where we finish is more important than where we start. Once we have been through the Bill, and through the commission process that the Secretary of State said will be introduced soon, we will end up, I hope, where we need to be. Frankly, that is what is important.

I welcome the retention of the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is important, not least because it demonstrates to those Members that their views will be listened to here. Had we sought to proceed in open defiance of the clear majority of MSPs, we would have been introducing a constitutional tension into the debate.

It does not surprise me that the Conservatives are not part of the consensus. They have never been part of any consensus for the development of the constitutional position in Scotland. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) took the best approach that he could have done in the circumstances when he ditched what looked like the last three or four pages of his speech, said that this was a bad Bill, and sat down.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) made a more telling contribution when she outlined all the things that the Conservatives want for the Scottish Parliament: to reduce the number of Members; to reduce the number of Committees; and to reduce the number of Ministers. Everything that the Conservatives propose in the debate, it seems to me, is designed to reduce the effectiveness of the Scottish Parliament. That is no accident: they do not want the Scottish Parliament to succeed and they do not want it to be effective, because they never wanted it in the first place.

Mr. Peter Duncan

Is the hon. Gentleman absolutely convinced of the need for 22 Ministers to run the Scottish Executive?

Mr. Carmichael

The number of members of the Scottish Executive or the Cabinet is for the Scottish Parliament to decide, and it will be judged on that basis at the end of the day. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives stood for election in May last year on exactly the same set of proposals—to reduce this and reduce that—and were roundly trounced for their pains, so a little more humility from Conservative Front Benchers would not go amiss.

The question of the coincidence, coterminosity or coterminality—call it what one will—of boundaries is important. Several hon. Members came out with the old saw of asking how often people come to constituency surgeries to talk about coterminosity. Unless one is exceptionally unfortunate in one's constituents, they do not—and long may that continue to be the case. People may not talk about that in surgeries, but they often talk about how the Scottish Parliament operates, and there is a feeling that it does not operate as well, as clearly or as effectively as it might. I believe that the coincidence of boundaries is part of that. As the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) mentioned, the operation of the list system is also part of that, so we are right to deal with those points in the Bill. The Scottish Affairs Committee was right to identify it as a problem, and we need to find the solution to it.

I explored with the Leader of the House at last Thursday's business questions whether the long title of the Bill could be altered in order to entertain amendments in Committee that would examine those issues, because the Bill is narrowly and tightly drawn. I have to say that the Secretary of State's announcement about the commission today would make that unnecessary—indeed, even unhelpful. The commission is important and I certainly hope that my party will play an active and full part in it.

My other concern is the movement that I detect among some Labour Members—overtly among Conservative Members—away from proportionality. I believe that proportionality was crucial in selling the Scottish Parliament to the Scottish people. I say that because it was long held in many parts of the country—particularly in the highlands and islands and the borders—that, as my predecessor but one, the late Lord Grimond of Firth once put it, we do not want to be ruled by Glasgow trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers. He said that, unfortunately, in 1983 when he was speaking in support of my colleague, Jim Wallace, who was then seeking to take over the seat. He was an Edinburgh lawyer, so it was not perhaps the most helpful intervention in the debate. but it does not seem to have done any lasting damage.

I say in all seriousness that proportionality in the Scottish Parliament means that we must not end up being, to use another expression, the Strathclyde region writ large. That is of supreme importance and any move away from proportionality must be deprecated. It is certainly something that my constituents and I would not countenance supporting. That is why I could not go along with the suggestion in the Scottish Affairs Committee report of having two Members in the Scottish Parliament for each Westminster constituency. Inevitably, in my view, that would have led to the end of proportionality.

Mr. Tynan

The hon. Gentleman is deluding himself. I believe that the Scottish electorate is more interested in the delivery of the Scottish Parliament and what it can provide in the way of better governance for the people of Scotland. It is not merely a question of proportional representation.

Mr. Carmichael

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. but his view does not concur with what I find in my constituency. My constituents would feel that a Scottish Executive and Parliament dominated by the central belt—and by the party of the central belt that would inevitably follow from first past the post—would, almost by definition, be deficient in its representation of their interests.

David Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the alternative vote system, under which a candidate would require the support of 50 per cent. of the electorate in any constituency? In those circumstances, there would be a mandate by a majority decision.

Mr. Carmichael

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that AV is preferable to a first-past-the-post system. My concerns remain, however, that in the end it does not produce a Parliament that is truly proportional. As with first past the post, there is a bigger element of accident and happenstance. It could be more proportional, but it almost certainly would not be. In order to secure a more proportional system, one needs larger constituency sizes. That is the fundamental difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's point.

Rosemary McKenna

I agree that the element of proportional representation was an important part of persuading people, particularly in the periphery of Scotland, to vote in favour of having a Scottish Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that removing proportionality now would be viewed as a very cynical exercise?

Mr. Carmichael

Cynical is putting it mildly. It would perhaps be kind to say that about it. I believe that with the passage of time and after learning from experience, we sometimes forget the importance of proportionality as part of the overall constitutional convention programme. What I am trying to achieve tonight is firmly to put that element back into the debate because it is so important. We should remember why we took certain decisions in the first place.

Mr. Andrew Turner

I do not seek to upset either way the proportional element in the current arrangements, but could the hon. Gentleman explain how having four regions using proportional representaiton for members of Parliament across the central belt reduces the dominance of the central belt on the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Carmichael

No, I cannot because I have no idea what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I just do not understand his logic at all. If this does not help him, he can try to intervene again of course, but I am trying to explain that the majority of people in Scotland—or certainly the largest element of people in Scotland—live in the central belt, which is why the majority of first-past-the-post seats are there, and that that tends to deliver a dominance under the first-past-the-post system.

Mr. Wilson

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) makes a perfectly valid point because proportional representation as expressed through the Scottish Parliament does not reduce the dominance of the central belt—what it does is make political representation in the central belt more diffuse—but I, for one, having some interest in highlands and islands affairs, would seriously question whether the net effect is beneficial to the highlands and islands.

Mr. Carmichael

Ah, well, I can understand the point when the hon. Gentleman puts it like that—I think that we speak the same language. The danger is that we think of the central belt as a unified lump. Of course it is not; there is a diversity of opinion in the central belt, as there is throughout the highlands and islands as well. The fact that, under the first-past-the-post system, the central belt tends to return a preponderance of Labour MPs lies at the heart of the suspicion that exists in other more peripheral parts. It can be argued that things can be done differently or better, but that suspicion will not be overcome by diverting from the proportionality of the Parliament.

I broadly welcome the commission that the Secretary of State has proposed today. It is a worthy successor to the constitutional convention. It will advance the debate in the spirit and manner in which the constitutional convention was conducted. First, I hope that we will be able to keep the Conservatives and the Scottish nationalists on board because they are an important part of the process. Secondly, I should be interested to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland what role she envisages for the wider civic Scotland, because the remarkable success of the Scottish Constitutional Convention was shown in the manner in which it managed to include the Churches, the trade unions and other civic bodies. I hope that some of that spirit can be recaptured in the right hon. Gentleman's commission.

I wish to try to swim against the tide of the debate by briefly saying something about the Bill itself. I felt originally that the manner in which the Bill was drafted was tight and restrictive. I am very pleased that the commission will allow a wider debate to take place, perhaps outwith the Chamber, because politics does not begin and end at the doors at either end of the Chamber; there is a wider political debate to be had outwith. For that reason and with the assurances provided by the commission, I shall be pleased, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to join the Government in the Lobby to support the Bill tonight.

8.13 pm
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab)

I align myself with the remarks about the Bill made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). The Bill, allied to the Secretary of State's statement on the commission, is exactly the outcome that I had hoped for, and it is exactly what the people of Scotland will welcome. I welcome the announcement on the commission's remit, particularly the reference to the four different types of voting systems that will be possible in Scotland under local government legislation. People will want to look at that very carefully, and there will be an opportunity to do so, given the commission's remit. I look forward to hearing the announcement about the commission's membership and about when it will start and when it will report.

The Secretary of State also indicated that the remit would include looking at voter participation. That is also important. I am not absolutely certain that the reduction in turnout is caused by the different types of electoral system. Unfortunately, the reduction in turnout is happening all over the world, and we as politicians have to address ourselves to finding out why that is so. Perhaps part of the reason is related to confusion about the voting systems. I am not absolutely convinced about that, but we must find out why that is happening.

The Secretary of State also announced that the relationship between public bodies, MPs and MSPs would be considered. Some people appear to think that that will create confusion. I cannot say from my experience that it has caused confusion in my local authority, where the relationship between the local authority, the MP, the MSP, the various public bodies—the health boards and so on—seems to involve a good dialogue. However, those relationships should be looked at if they are an issue in some areas.

On the representation by different tiers of elected Members, perhaps the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs report on multi-layered democracies could be borne in mind. I shall not quote the report, but I am certain that the Committee was convinced that there was absolutely no problem in working multi-layered democracies and that different levels of representation were perfectly acceptable in those countries in the world where it happens. For example, Germany, France and Spain have different tiers of government and various types of devolution in different areas. I hope that that report will also inform the commission.

I should like to tell hon. Members about one of my constituents when I was a lowly district councillor and we had several tiers of representation. She came to me to complain about an issue. When I was unable to respond favourably to the complaint, she went to the regional councillor. The regional councillor was unable to solve the problem, so she went to the Member of Parliament. The Member of Parliament was unable to respond to the problem, so she went to the Member of the European Parliament. Ultimately, she insisted that the only way to resolve the problem was to go to Rome, so she promptly took herself off to Rome to find a higher authority. I do not quite know what response she got, but constituents are well able to find out where to get the right answer to their problems.

No one thinks that the voting method for the Scottish Parliament is wonderful, but we must remind ourselves why we are where we are. The Scotland Act 1998 was taken almost entirely from the constitutional convention. While some did not expect the similarity to be so close, it turned out to be very close because it was created by consensus. That consensus was important because it ensured the inclusion in the Labour party general election manifesto of the proposal to legislate for a Scottish Parliament, after a referendum, in two years. The consensus was also important in ensuring a massive majority in favour of the Parliament in the referendum. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who said that that was an important part of achieving that consensus not only in the central belt, but around the periphery in Scotland.

Everyone obviously agrees about keeping the number of MSPs at 129, but let us not forget for a minute that the Conservatives say in their amendment that they want to address the proliferation of politicians in Scotland. May I remind them that in 1996 there were more politicians in Scotland than there are at the moment? In 1996, the Conservative local government reform removed more politicians than the Conservatives suggest in their amendment. I am not exactly sure of the numbers, but about 400 councillors were lost to the Scottish electorate.

Their proposal is now to take away 20 or so MPs, but they take us nowhere near the reduction that took place then. However, they are consistent. The proposal has nothing to do with the Scottish Parliament; it is just about reducing people's ability to be represented by whom they want under system that allows for far greater representation.

Mr. Peter Duncan

Our beliefs are consistent, and the hon. Lady will accept that they are consistent with our view that small government is better for the Scottish people. That is why we believe that we need a smaller Scottish Parliament and that the same agenda can be delivered by 108 rather than 129 Members.

Rosemary McKenna

The Conservatives certainly had small government when they had four Ministers running the then Scottish Office in the run-up to the 1997 general election and in the preceding 18 years. They performed no great service to the people of Scotland and that is why the Conservatives lost so resoundingly in 1997 and ended up without a single Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, small government did not work then.

We have to consider the boundaries, but I do not think that they matter all that much—certainly not in the short term. People quickly get to know their parliamentarian or councillor; they can certainly find out who they are by visiting the local library. I would like to think that everybody knows who is their Member of Parliament, who is their local councillor or who is their MSP. However, that is not the case. Not as many people as we think know who we are.

David Hamilton

They do in Midlothian.

Rosemary McKenna

Apart from in Midlothian, where my hon. Friend insists that every member of the electorate knows him. However, as long as the proposals are based on local government boundaries—which they are—we do not have anything to worry about.

The fact that a commission is being set up is important. I hope that it will allow for representations from all civic Scotland. People feel that they played a part in setting up the Scottish Parliament and it is important that they feel a part of amending it. I hope that the trade unions, the churches and local government will all be included in the consultation process and have an opportunity to express their views.

Let us never forget that the Scottish Labour party gave Scotland the Parliament that the people wanted and had asked for. The Scottish Labour party created it. One of the most important elements of proportional representation is that it allowed us to have a better gender-balanced Parliament than almost any Parliament in the world. The Liberal Democrats could have made the position even better if they had kept to their original agreement when they said that they would have a gender-balanced list. Unfortunately, they did not have such a list and the Labour party was the only party to present one. However, the pressure and impetus that that created meant that there were more women in the Scottish Parliament than in any other legislature. I know that some of my colleagues may not agree with that, but that was a great step forward even though the nationalists and the Tories did not take part.

Mr. Hood

Not only do I agree with my hon. Friend, but I want to help to get more women into the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps she will consider supporting an amendment in Committee to have two Members for each constituency. We could have one woman and one man and that would improve the gender balance throughout Scotland. As she says, the other political parties have not responded, but the Labour party has. Such an amendment would be an excellent idea in achieving a better gender balance.

Rosemary McKenna

I cannot support two Members for each constituency simply because that removes any element of proportionality. There is not a Parliament or a legislature in the world that would be created today in which one would have a first-past-the-post system. We live in a democracy, and we understand that democracy is not delivered by a first-past-the-post system. I am not talking about changing existing systems; I am talking about the system that we created for the Parliament in Scotland.

Like everyone else, I and my Member of the Scottish Parliament were followed about by a list MSP—

Mr. Russell Brown

You were being stalked.

Rosemary McKenna

I was not being stalked. The list MSP spent the entire proceeds of his advertising budget and was in my constituency nearly all the time, but we beat him in the election. We beat such people politically, and I hope that we shall continue to do that.

Mr. Brown

As I said to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I had to leave earlier to attend another meeting, but I am sure that people have expressed grave concerns throughout the debate about list Members who seem to float around the system. Some land on a specific patch and concentrate on that. However, an even greater issue is now beginning to surface. List Members of the Scottish Parliament are being selected for the next election and they go around the patch in some form of legitimate fashion saying that they are still Members of the Scottish Parliament, which they are. However, they are doing nothing more than campaigning for the next general election with the taxpayers picking up the cost.

Rosemary McKenna

My hon. Friend has just demonstrated that the issue is about politicians. The subject is not discussed in the pubs and clubs in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. Constituents have yet to come to me and say that they wish to make a complaint. However, if we try to impose change without proper consultation, the issue will be quickly raised. I worked with the convention through my involvement with local government and I am certain that the whole issue of proportionality was crucial in helping us to deliver the Scottish Parliament. I agree that the system is not perfect, but it is not worrying people in our constituencies. I have always supported proportional representation and nothing that has happened has persuaded me otherwise.

Mr. Tynan

My hon. Friend referred to the list candidate for the Scottish Parliament for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. The way to defeat such individuals is by working hard and making sure that we beat them at the poll. Does she accept that that person is not in the Scottish Parliament because the Scottish National party put him so far down the list that he could not win a seat?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are going a little wide of the debate.

Rosemary McKenna

My hon. Friend again demonstrates that this is a matter that politicians talk about. It is not discussed in our constituencies. People quickly suss out what is happening. I repeat that we defeat such candidates politically and not by complaining about the system

I welcome the fact that the commission will have an opportunity to consider these issues. I am sure that many people will wish to give evidence and to express their views. I suspect that civic Scotland wants a proportional system that delivers a Parliament that reflects society. A first-past-the-post system does not deliver a Parliament that reflects society or gives the views of the people due credence. Every vote must matter, and a system of proportional representation is the one to do that.

Mrs. Irene Adams

Does my hon. Friend agree that every vote does not matter at the moment? In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), 77,000 votes were cast for the Labour party list but not one member was elected. However, someone from a minority party who received 10,000 votes was elected.

Rosemary McKenna

The votes are cumulative. Under the current system, a Labour Member has no hope of getting elected in the constituency of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), but there is hope under proportional representation.

The Scottish Parliament is settling down, and recent opinion polls show a great deal of support for it and its achievements. Given the views expressed today, I hope that a consensus is reached, but I do not envy the work of the commission. How on earth can consensus be achieved? I wish the Secretary of State luck.

8.30 pm
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD)

I welcome the Bill, which will keep 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, although I wish that it were much better. I also wish that the Bill were more wide ranging and that we could table amendments to it relating to different electoral systems. I also welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of a commission to consider changes to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament.

Despite welcoming both the Bill, which keeps 129 MSPs, and the commission, which will review the electoral system, I regret the sequence of events that has taken us to this situation at this time. The commission should have been set up one year ago, when the Secretary of State's predecessor made her statement in the House in December 2002. The commission should have started its work after the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections, because at that point we had seen the electoral system work for a full Parliament and had been through two elections. If the commission had been set up then, we could have discussed its recommendations in this debate.

Mr. Peter Duncan

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the commission should have been set up a year ago when the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell), made the announcement. Does he not take on board the powerful point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that the commission is being set up to deal with a problem that has not yet occurred? If the commission had been set up then, the problem would have been one year away. The problem of coterminousity and lack of boundary consistency is not yet there to deal with. Why should the commission have been set up one year ago?

Mr. Reid

When we envisage a problem, we should take steps to stop it arising. If I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, he wants to wait until we have a problem, and only then take steps to deal with it.

The Scottish Parliament has undoubtedly been successful—we have a consensus on that point and no party wants to abolish it. It has passed many Bills because we needed to catch up. For many years, there had not been parliamentary time at Westminster to pass the number of the Bills required in Scotland to keep Scots law up to date.

When considering the numbers, it is important to remember that the Scottish Parliament is a single chamber. Earlier, Conservative Members were calculating the number of elected politicians in Scotland and comparing that figure with England. However, they all failed to take into account the many unelected politicians in Westminster in the House of Lords. The number of people scrutinising legislation in Westminster is far greater than the number of MPs alone.

Mr. Carmichael

On the subject of the large number of unelected members in the other place, does it strike my hon. Friend as strange that Conservative Members' enthusiasm for reducing the number of politicians never extends to that end of the budding?

Mr. Reid

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

Since the Scottish Parliament has a single chamber, its Committees play an important role both in scrutinising the Executive and in improving the quality of legislation. The Committees already have a full work load, and a cut in the number of MSPs would either greatly increase that, or reduce the effectiveness of the Committees. The recent Scotland Office consultation on whether the current number of MSPs should be retained also came out heavily in favour of keeping the number at 129.

I welcome the Government's decision to introduce the Bill rather than allowing the Scotland Act 1998 to reduce the number of MSPs to 106 at the 2007 election. However, I agree with the hon. Members who say that the Government's method, if it is ever implemented, will lead to confusion. It will have an impact only at the 2007 election, and if, as the Secretary of State has promised, the commission proceeds speedily, the Government and Parliament could have accepted its recommendations before the 2007 election. The legislation that we pass tonight may never come into effect, because it will be overtaken by events.

I also agree with many of the comments about the list system. Although constituents do not use the word "coterminousity" when they discuss the issue, as hon. Members have pointed out, they raise the subject in other ways. Obviously, my constituency and the Scottish Parliament constituency currently share the same boundaries and the same name—Argyll and Bute. However, Argyll and Bute council covers a larger area than my constituency. The current parliamentary boundaries were drawn up under the previous local government boundaries, and follow the former local government district of Argyll and Bute, which was abolished in 1996.

If the Bill has its full effect and is not overtaken by the commission, the current Scottish Parliament constituency of Argyll and Bute will survive until 2011, despite being based on the boundary of a district council that was abolished in 1996. It is difficult to explain that situation to my constituents. Because the constituency boundary does not follow the council boundary, I spend a great deal of time explaining to constituents that my constituency does not cover the whole of Argyll and Bute and that people who live in the parts of Argyll and Bute council area that are not covered by the Argyll and Bute constituency are represented by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

Mr. Weir

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that that will be the case in many situations? There are parts of three different local authorities in my constituency; under the new scheme. the new Angus constituency will not cover the whole of Angus, parts of which will go into two Dundee seats. The same problems will occur whatever system is selected.

Mr. Reid

There will certainly be an element of confusion, but it does not need to be this confusing. For example, the two Aberdeen, Norths and two Aberdeen, Souths will follow different boundaries, as will the two Dundee, Easts and the two Dundee, Wests. That is a recipe for total confusion.

The election of the Parliament on a proportional basis has been a proven success—and I say that as a member of a party that has derived little benefit from the top-up lists. They have produced only four Liberal Democrat MSPs compared with 13 elected in the constituencies. The main beneficiaries of the top-up lists have been not the Liberal Democrats but the Scottish National party and the Tories, but it is only right for SNP and Tory voters to have fair representation in the Scottish Parliament.

List MSPs do not have a properly defined role. They invariably cherry-pick, either by concentrating all their efforts on one constituency and setting themselves up as shadow constituency MSPs, or by taking up issues that provide them with a public profile, leaving constituency MSPs to do the less high-profile casework on behalf of individual constituents.

One unexpected outcome of the top-up list system has been that because the party that gains the most votes inevitably wins more than its fair share of constituency seats, and because most of the top-up list seats therefore go to the smaller parties, the bulk of the Ministers are drawn from the constituency MSPs. That leaves the list MSPs with little to do. The constituency MSPs have all the constituency work to do and make up the vast majority of Ministers. That was an unforeseen effect, but now that we can see the system in operation, we can see that as one reason for changing it.

I hope that the commission's remit will allow it to consider only proportional systems. It should choose a system under which all MSPs are elected using the same method, and avoid having two separate categories of MSP as we have at the moment. The obvious choice is the single transferable vote—STV—system. That could be implemented by pairing new Westminster constituencies, each pair to form a multi-Member constituency for the Scottish Parliament. Each of those multi-Member constituencies could then elect four or five MSPs.

That would mean that all MSPs were on the same footing and, importantly, that the voters would decide who was elected from each party—unlike the present list system, where the party members effectively decide who is elected by determining the order of the names on the lists. The STV system would also have the advantage that Scottish Parliament and local council elections held on the same day could be held using the same voting system. I hope that the commission will recommend STV.

I shall vote to give the Bill a Second Reading because it keeps the Parliament at 129 Members, but I regret that the Government have framed it so tightly that it excludes consideration of alternative electoral systems.

8.41 pm
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab)

At this time of night it is often difficult to find something new to say, but I shall try my best. I can understand why Opposition Members want to pursue a PR system, which is in their interests, but as a Labour Member I take the view that if we are winning, I want to continue to win and to deliver for the people whom I represent. That is a clear difference between Opposition Members and me.

This could be a debate for anoraks, looking at different systems and discussing which way to go. So far as I can see, it is a debate for the chattering classes. I think that there was a demand for a Scottish Parliament because the people in Scotland were so fed up with voting constantly for a Labour Government and losing during the 18 years of Conservative rule, and of seeing the damage that the Conservatives did to ordinary people in Scotland, that they gave up and decided, "We're never going to win a general election, so let's have a Scottish Parliament. Let's have something new that will protect the people of Scotland." That is one reason why civil society and members of the Labour party were at one in trying to establish a Scottish Parliament.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today, but, as he said, we have to look at the system and at the issues that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has raised. I commend the Committee for its report, which covers several issues very well. When it was published on 3 February there was much interest in it, especially in view of today's debate. The report's third recommendation is that the commission should start work as soon as possible and that whatever it recommends should be implemented, through this Parliament, in time for the 2007 election. We should adopt that recommendation. I am delighted, as were the majority of the members of the Committee, with its work. Its findings will allow the Secretary of State—and, I am now told, the First Minister—to implement the commission's decisions through this Parliament.

However, I have a confession to make. I was a list member in 1999, when the Labour party placed me first in the list for Central Scotland. I was lucky—I escaped and am here instead of in the Scottish Parliament. When I was standing. I could not campaign, because we were concentrating on the first-past-the-post candidate in the constituency2014;and, I am delighted to say, we were successful in securing his election.

The literature that we produced for the electorate targeted the first-past-the-post seat and did not target the list candidate. There were eight of us on the list, which was sent to constituents, who then had to make a decision. The Labour party achieved 130,000 votes that evening, and the Member who was elected to the Scottish Parliament won 17,000 votes. I have always thought that the list system was unfair—I am not just saying so because I was a list member. However, my experience demonstrated graphically that it was certainly not the way in which we should proceed.

The explanatory notes to the Bill say: The Scotland Act 1998 provides for the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament to be the same as those for the United Kingdom Parliament, except…Orkney and Shetland. They continue: There are currently 73 constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and 56 regional list MSPs. The Act also provides that the Boundary Commission for Scotland when reviewing the Westminster constituencies should use the same (larger) electoral quota as used in England. This is likely to reduce…to 59. The Minister should take note of the fact that the boundary commission is currently examining the English constituencies for numbers. If we are going to apply the Scottish parliamentary model to Westminster it is likely that there will shortly be another reduction in the number of MPs representing Scotland. It would be better to introduce proposals to reduce the number of Scottish MPs when proposed boundary changes are made in England, Wales and Scotland. There are now 129 MSPs, but we are reducing the number of MPs from Scotland. I believe that change should have been effected on a broader basis.

As politicians, we should look at the genuine opportunity presented by our debate. If we are to improve government structures we should do so not on the basis of whether there are 59 MPs or 129 MSPs, but on the basis of how best to deliver for the people whom we represent. The Scottish people were excited about the Scottish Parliament, and may have had huge expectations about what it could deliver. To some extent, they have been disappointed—even the First Minister has said so. However, the Scottish Parliament will grow and deliver for the people of Scotland. It will settle down and take the direction that it should have taken originally, and I am delighted that we set it up.

Participation and the involvement of the people are crucial. I do not believe the electorate are interested in the numbers, whether they are 59 or 129. They are interested in what we can deliver. When I was doing research for our debate I came across a press release: A Gallup survey …last week painted a very depressing picture of the way people in Britain today feel about their country and its institutions. It revealed a significant and worrying loss of confidence in Parliament, in our justice system, and in the way the country is governed. Only a tiny number of those questioned believed…that Britain is a country at ease with itself.

I have no hesitation in saying there is an undeniable and pressing need for constitutional reform in this country. Undeniable because—as I hope to demonstrate—our structures and institutions are clearly failing properly to represent the people they were set in place to serve. And pressing because of the mounting sense of disenchantment and cynicism amongst the people of this country about our political system, a deeply disturbing trend that must be checked if we are to secure the future health of our democracy. That was part of a speech by John Smith in 1993. He believed that establishing a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Parliament was the way forward.

I would question whether we have been successful. Do the same problems still exist even with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in place? It is important that we examine not only structures but what we are doing as politicians to create the impetus for people to be involved in the political process. At the last Scottish parliamentary election in my constituency, 46 per cent. of the electorate turned out. That must be of concern to every Member in this place and to every politician in Scotland.

Angus Robertson

I wish to understand the hon. Gentleman's train of thought a little better. He has talked about ways of galvanising the electorate to help deliver aspirations in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections. Does he share the view of the majority expressed in an opinion poll last week for The Herald, which indicated that an overwhelming number of people in Scotland want to see greater power exercised by the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Tynan

Out of the consensus of the Scottish Constitutional Convention came the opportunity for consensus and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. The SNP had no part in that consensus. It is regrettable that it did not take the opportunity to be involved. I understand that Sir David Steel is asking for another convention to be set up. I understand also that the leaders of the SNP are now saying, "Let's go for it." Obviously, their intention is to try to achieve more power for the Scottish Parliament. If we are talking about bedding down a Parliament and retaining 129 Members to see how it goes by allowing the parliament time, that should be our approach to the entire process. We should take our time and then decide what is necessary.

We should carefully consider where we are on these matters. I shall vote with the Government, but I hope that the opportunity will arise in Committee for us to be involved in discussions and amendments to improve the Bill. That will be essential. I recognise that we have some serious problems. I also recognise that we must deal with the issues that are before us. I believe that the Bill needs amendment, and I look forward to that process.

8.53 pm
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) in the effect of the different electoral systems on his political fortunes. I am sure that he would agree that he is better off as a Member of this place than as a list Member of the Scottish Parliament.

I do not feel strongly about all of the Bill, and neither do my constituents. However, there are aspects of it about which they feel particularly strongly, and I wish to represent them on those points.

First, I wish to address a remark that was made earlier, which was that the constitutional settlement in Scotland was a done deal. The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) suggested that we were in danger of unpicking the devolution settlement. The Bill certainly attempts to unpick that settlement—let there be no doubt about that. As the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) said, one of the aspects of the settlement was the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament, and that is being unpicked by the Bill.

The Secretary of State used the word "consensus" twice. I picked him up on that, but I never received an answer, so I repeat my point so that the Under-Secretary can reply later. The first time the right hon. Gentleman referred to a consensus, and the second time to a consensus in Scotland with regard to the future of the 129 MSPs. When I challenged him he said that a consensus is what is arrived at in this House. On that basis, we have a consensus on foundation hospitals and on tuition fees. I do not think that that is a very good description of a consensus. The description in the Scottish Constitutional Convention referred to by the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), albeit not a consensus to which I would have subscribed had I lived in Scotland at the time, was a much better description of a consensus than that furnished by the right hon. Gentleman.

There is a great concern—if one reads the Select Committee's report carefully it is even easier to feel such concern—that the Bill is a Trojan horse to retain the number of MSPs and, subsequently, use that as an excuse for retaining the number of Scottish Members of this House. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State come near to denying that that was his intention, but that was certainly the recommendation, as I read it. If one retains the number of MSPs and coterminosity, the only consequence can be to retain the number of Scottish Members of this House, and that, it appeared to me, is what the report was recommending.

Mrs. Irene Adams

The report recommended that the Westminster Members be reduced in number, but that the commission to be set up should find a way of making coterminous boundaries with the 129 at Edinburgh and the 59 at Westminster.

Mr. Turner

I thank the hon. Lady for that explanation. I shall have to think rather more carefully about how such a commission will be able to do that, but I am grateful for her guarantee on that.

The best argument in favour of the retention of coterminosity was that put forward by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)—it is that of confusion. That was repeated by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid). He made a long speech, much of which I agreed with. He announced at the end that he would vote for the Bill, which I found rather curious, but he repeated the point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North. I checked, and 21 constituencies would have the same name but different boundaries were the Bill to be enacted, and one constituency would have the same boundaries but a different name.

Mr. Alan Reid

A lot will arise from the Bill with which I disagree, but I will support it tonight because it will result in a better situation than would be the case without it. The important thing is to keep the number of MSPs at 129, which a unicameral Parliament and a strong Committee system requires.

Mr. Turner

I understand the hon. Gentleman's motivation in voting for the Bill; it is to maintain the present number of MSPs. I do not agree with it, but I understand his motivation for it. Incidentally, it was 20 constituencies, not 21—I apologise to the House. But I see no magic in the 129 figure, and so far no one has been able to explain it to me. I accept that the Scottish Parliament is unicameral and that it has a strong Committee system, but it has less to do than the Westminster Parliament has to do for England. Yet it seems to be necessary for Scotland to have five times the representation in one Parliament or another that my constituents have, and I simply do not understand that. That is the point that is talked about in the pubs and clubs on the Isle of Wight. It is not coterminosity that is talked about; it is the position of Scottish electors compared with that of English electors, and, most particularly, English electors who happen to live in the Isle of Wight.

Mrs. Irene Adams

The hon. Gentleman is clearly talking once again about the West Lothian question, but what he seems to have failed to understand throughout the years of debate is that that question was never one for the people of Scotland. Rather, it was a question for the people of England and a question of how they addressed their home affairs. If they chose to address them in this Parliament, it would be as part of a UK Parliament. If they chose not to do so, they would need regional assemblies to address those problems.

Mr. Turner

There is more than one way of skinning a cat. The method that I think most of my constituents would prefer is one whereby English Members of this Parliament deal with English matters. I can see absolutely no objection to that argument. I do not understand—

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)


Mr. Turner

Doubtless the hon. Gentleman will tell me why Labour Members find that proposition so offensive.

Mr. Lazarowicz

I am intrigued by the idea of pubs and clubs in the Isle of Wight tuning their TVs to the Parliament channel as we discuss the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that one answer to his dilemma is the establishment of a powerful regional assembly covering his part of the country. I understand that he is against that proposal, but whatever the degree of criticism that has now crept in about the Scottish Parliament, the degree of public support for it shown in the opinion polls is higher than for the Westminster Parliament.

Mr. Turner

That might well be true, but it is the case because Scotland has an identity as a nation, whereas I doubt that the hon. Gentleman could even say in which region my constituency lies, and neither could most of my constituents. They do not identify with the so-called regions of England and they do not wish to have a regional parliament or assembly, whether it is in Guildford, Woking or Milton Keynes. That is not something that they want or that should be imposed on them. I am glad that there will be a referendum if there is any proposal that such an assembly should be established, as I am sure that we will vote against it.

The point is that, at the moment, hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent English constituencies are covering a range of activities. I am fortunate because I represent more than 100,000 people; indeed, I believe that I am unique in that respect in this Parliament. We cover a range of responsibilities, whether they relate to England or the UK, and we accept that it is for the Scots to have a Scottish Parliament if they choose and that it is for them to decide to have five Members of one Parliament or another for every one Member of one Parliament or another who represents the Isle of Wight. That is their decision, but we do not understand why Scottish MPs seem to object to English matters being dealt with by English Members of this House. I am not talking about banishing them from having any say in United Kingdom affairs—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. In debating the Bill, we are discussing the number of constituencies, rather than responsibilities.

Mr. Turner

I accept that entirely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I want now to talk about one aspect of representation of those constituencies. The Secretary of State represents in the Cabinet not only Scotland, but transport. My constituents would like him to explain why, as Secretary of State for Scotland, he can decide with the support of Members of Parliament from England, Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland for that matter, that no subsidies should be given to the ferries that ply across the Solent to my constituency—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Again, that is outside the scope of this debate.

Mr. Turner

I was about to say that that is happening while 129 Scottish Members can decide what subsidies are given to the ferries that ply their way to the Scottish islands.

Mr. Hood

I shall try to rescue the hon. Gentleman and bring him back to the subject of the debate. Does he understand that he will be going into the Lobby this evening to vote on a Bill that is applicable only to Scotland, and not to England or Wales? If he thinks that that is okay—and I think it is okay—why was he criticising Scottish MPs for doing the same thing a fortnight ago?

Mr. Turner

I will vote on the Bill because it is a United Kingdom measure. Nobody has tried to argue that the Bill is not a UK measure, whereas many people—particularly residents of the Isle of Wight—argue that ferry subsidies to the Isle of Wight is not a Scottish measure and that Scottish MPs should not be entitled to vote upon it. I see that you are keen that I should not go too much further down that road, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not.

There is one other point that I should like to make about the value or otherwise of MSPs. I understand that the average cost of an MSP is£317,317 per annum, while the average running cost per member of this Parliament is a mere £5,000 more, yet there are so many more MSPs per Scottish elector than there are Members of the UK Parliament per UK elector. I accept that we have peers as well, but most are very cheap; some of them come free. We get good value from the other place, we get good value from this place, but we get exceptionally poor value from MSPs.

Mr. Salmond

Is the hon. Gentleman's supreme constitutional point that if MSPs were prepared to accept no salary, he would have no objection to however many of them there were?

Mr. Turner

It is not, as it happens. It is just—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have previously reminded the hon. Gentleman of the scope of the debate. I do so once more; perhaps he will now refer to the content of the Bill and the debate.

Mr. Turner

My point was that the number of Members of this Parliament per elector produced better value than the number of electors proposed by the Bill per MSP. It is not a supreme constitutional issue, but it is an issue with which I would be concerned were I a Scottish elector. I am not a Scottish elector, but I do not feel that that should influence the decision one way or the other.

When the Government introduce legislation, they should not turn it upside down within three or four years, which is what I object to most about the Bill. The Government do that all the time, of course. They have done it recently, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition remarked at Prime Minister's Question Time last week. It is embarrassing that they do so because it indicates that they have not thought through legislation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South said that we had sleepwalked into this position and that we did not look at the details of the legislation.

As a result of the Bill, I would like us to decide not to change the current settlement. By making a change, the Government are accepting that it is open to us, and to anyone, to propose changes to the settlement. If we are entitled to propose changes to the settlement, we who represent English electors will seek to open the West Lothian question.

I do not believe that more politicians mean better services. I do not believe that my constituents believe that, and I would be surprised if Scottish constituents believed that. That is why I will vote against the Bill tonight.

9.8 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab)

I am aware of the time and will do my best to leave sufficient time for the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett).

In an attempt to stop Members intervening to ask who I have talked to lately, I say that I base my input tonight on the debate that I have had with members of my party and of my electorate and on my experience overall in campaigning, since 1978, for a Scottish Parliament

The first question I asked myself when I was putting my speech together is, "Why open the Act?" I asked the same question when I made my submission to the previous Secretary of State for Scotland.

I have had great difficulty in coming to terms with that, so I have great sympathy with Opposition Members. I could mention private conversations that I had with the late Donald Dewar, but I will not do that—instead, I will quote from what he said at the time, which can be read in Hansard by any Member who wishes to do so. When the House of Lords tabled an amendment on whether 129 MSPs should remain for ever, he said: In the White Paper, we made it clear that the size of the Scottish Parliament would change to take account of changes at Westminster so as to maintain common boundaries. I should reassure the House that the Government have thought long and hard about the implications for the Parliament of a reduction in its size. We do not believe that such a reduction will make the Parliament less able to carry out its key roles in scrutinising effectively the Scottish Administration's work and enacting legislation."—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 381.] Suddenly, we find that the Government have changed their mind about that. Having said unreservedly that they could conduct business in the Scottish Parliament with fewer than 129 MSPs, we now find ourselves faced with a fait accompli, which, regretfully, I shall have to go along with. That does not mean that I am fully minded to walk through the Lobby with my party tonight—I have still to make that final decision. I will not vote with the Opposition, however: I could never walk through the Lobby with the Conservatives, and my father would turn in his grave if I did so.

Mr. Peter Duncan

I am sorry to point out something that might be too difficult for the hon. Gentleman to contemplate, but to assist him in his dilemma, I remind him that in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs he voted with me in order to implement the Scotland Act 1998. I wonder whether he could consider doing so tonight.

John Robertson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I do not know how he conducts his business in Select Committee, but I take the view that I am there to represent the whole House, so I do not consider issues along party political lines, and vote as such. Obviously, other Members do not do the same.

If we are going to pass the Bill—as we obviously are, because the vote of one Member from Glasgow, Anniesland will not make a big difference—it is regrettable that it was not undertaken properly. As many Members said, there is a great deal in the 1998 Act that needs to be sorted. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about the commission. That is a very good idea, and it is an even better idea to bring it forward immediately. When my right hon. Friend was asked when it will be implemented, he did not answer. That is of paramount importance in getting rid of any anomalies that may be in the system before the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2007, which is my No. 1 priority in terms of supporting the Bill in future.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who unfortunately is not in his place, did little to persuade me to support his party tonight—in fact, the Conservatives seem to be suffering from selective amnesia. In the debate in which the late Donald Dewar spoke, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who is now chairman of the Conservative party, said: The first thing that will be required to make the Scottish Parliament work properly is stability, but what is guaranteed by what he is defending is instability."—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 387.] This is a role reversal, because my Government are talking about maintaining 129 MSPs, whereas Conservative Members, who supported that at the time of the 1998 Act, now oppose it.

One would put that down to political—

Mr. Hood


John Robertson

Self-interest is one term, but chicanery is a good word and I thank my hon. Friend for it.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), blamed her for the figure of 129. Again, I revert to what Conservative Members said when the Scotland Act 1998 went through Parliament. They supported that figure; they cannot simply change their minds. They appear to be indulging in very opportunistic politics nowadays. They cannot simply change with the weather: either they have principles or they do not. Someone once said that a Tory cannot eat principles.

My hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Paisley, North stole my thunder and my speech. They have obviously been looking over my shoulder. There is no point in telling hon. Members about the number of voters in Glasgow because everybody now knows. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale mentioned the number of list MSPs in his constituency; it was probably fair that he was the first to mention them.

Why do we need two ballot papers if we have a list system? Why can we not have one ballot paper? The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) described the second vote as natural. Having one ballot paper would change that and the Secretary of State should consider it. At least that would mean that 77,000 ballot papers would not be wasted in Glasgow and we might save one tree in the Amazon, if only for a year.

We should consider the matter seriously. If 77,000 people go through a ballot paper that is half a mile long and to the trouble of casting their vote only to find that it means nothing, that is not democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) talked about 130,000 votes.

Hangers-on and opportunists stand outside my polling stations and tell people, "That's okay, vote Labour. It's your second vote we want. Don't worry about it; you're voting Labour on the first vote, so they won't worry about it." That completely misrepresents the system. I want members of such parties out of the political system because their politics matches their underhandedness.

My hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) made some excellent points. He mentioned people who come to our surgeries and talk about, in effect, coterminosity. They ask, "Who do I go to?" They might want to discuss health and say, "Mr. Robertson, can you help me with this?" I say, "Yes. Give me your case. I'll take it." I forward it to the MSP. Should I forward it to eight MSPs or give it to my hon. Friend the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow, Anniesland because I know that he will take it up and attend to it properly? The electorate do not understand the difference between a councillor, an MSP and an MP and they do not care. They care about delivery.

When I stood for Parliament, it was on a Labour party ticket. The ballot paper did not say, "John Robertson, sometimes a member of the Labour party" or "part-time Labour party member". It said "the Labour party", and I am under no illusions: those three words were the only reason that I got elected.

Mr. Tynan

That is why you will vote with the Government.

John Robertson

I may have to do that—my hon. Friend talks me into it.

Proportionality has been mentioned often and I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will refer to it. I am sorry but I did not go into politics to worry about proportionality. I entered politics to worry about delivering for the people of Glasgow, Anniesland and this country.

Mr. Lazarowicz

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Robertson

Make it quick.

Mr. Lazarowicz

Can my hon. Friend tell the House why he was so keen on the Conservatives being able to run this country for 18 years on a minority vote, damaging Scotland in the process? [Interruption.]

John Robertson

I think that somebody said "Judas" from a sedentary position—[Laughter] My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I do not agree with him, and he knows that.

I want to mention the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who has done sterling work throughout the evening for the English national party and has told us many times about his 100,000 electors and how that was the equivalent of four seats in Scotland. It would be only four seats in Scotland, as I have just checked the figures, and those would include Orkney and Shetland, Western Isles—I will not say its real name, as I do not speak Gaelic—and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. That would take the number to well over 100,000. I do not think that any other Conservative Member has an electorate of that size, so his argument was somewhat disingenuous. I had a bit of sympathy with some of his points until he adopted the English nationalist pose—his party will have to watch that. If the Conservative party wants to be part of the United Kingdom, it must remember that this House represents all the people of this country. It does itself no favours by attacking Scottish Labour Members for voting on legislation that goes through the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will return to the main debate.

John Robertson

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I got carried away with the moment. I shall move on quickly, as I have about three speeches to make. It is terrible because we always leave the best to last—in this case, I am not talking about the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West.

One of my hon. Friends mentioned a referendum. The legislation was put together on a referendum of the Scottish people. Let us be honest—they did not vote because of the system that would be introduced; they voted with their hearts because it was about getting a Scottish Parliament. We all worked hard and we worked together. The SNP, in my constituency in particular, was of great help during the campaign for a yes, yes vote. I have no doubt that that collaboration helped to make the vote bigger than was expected. At the end of day, however, it is important to me that we should not give away power to another party. My job is to represent the people of Glasgow, Anniesland and to do my best for the people of the United Kingdom, but it is also to represent my party and my party's policies. That is what I want to do, and I do not see why we should give that up to another party, so that, in effect, the tail wags the dog. As far as I am concerned, proportionality should not even be on the agenda.

9.23 pm
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) for not using his last three minutes and allowing me to contribute to the debate at the end of the night.

There are real problems with the Scottish electoral system. The problem of list MSPs has been highlighted by a number of contributors to the debate. There is also the problem that the electorate are being turned off in droves. Each successive election results in fewer people going to the ballot box. As several Members have said already, however, people are not coming to constituency surgeries raising the issue of coterminosity. People want to see services delivered. When they phone the police by dialling 999, they have no interest in the division from which the police respond. They want a fast and efficient response. If we think that the talk in pubs and clubs around the country is about boundaries, we do so at our peril. What people want to see is a good, effective Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament has done a lot of good work in the past five years—I mention just tuition fees and free personal care for the elderly, although I see from some of the press about Mr. Galbraith today, that he does not share my enthusiasm for those policies. The current numerical total in the Scottish Parliament, however, has given it the ability to deal with issues in a way in which this Parliament cannot deal with them. The number 129, which was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), is not a magical figure. It was arrived at as a result of discussion and negotiation to make sure that the Scottish Parliament gave the people of Scotland some form of proportionality, so that they received a Parliament that reflected the way in which they voted, and they deserve that.

If 40 per cent. of people vote for the Government in this Parliament, that gives them a huge majority, although at the last general election the combined votes for the opposition parties exceeded the number of votes for the Labour party by 2 million. The people of Scotland deserve better.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

Can the hon. Gentleman name the last Government who had an absolute majority of votes from the United Kingdom electorate?

John Barrett


The Scottish Parliament is unicameral, so the Committee system is more important than it is here. The MSP in my constituency, Margaret Smith, was a convener of the Health Committee for four years, and during that time managed to take a huge amount of evidence, scrutinise legislation and involve the wider community in the workings of the Parliament. The Parliament already has two Justice Committees. Perhaps the biggest fear relating to a reduction in the number of MSPs is of the impact that such a cull would have on the overall effectiveness of the Committee system. For that reason, among others, the Bill should be welcomed.

Any break in the link between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster boundaries will present challenges, but those challenges will face parliamentary representatives rather than the general public. I do not think that different boundaries are sustainable in the long term, but I do not subscribe to the other view that chaos will reign supreme when the two Parliaments' boundaries no longer match.

The long-term solution is, of course, a re-examination of the whole way in which the Scottish Parliament is elected. I would also favour a similar review of the way in which we elect Members to this place. I must confess to being very disappointed with the Scottish Affairs Committee's report. When the Committee announced its inquiry into the break in the link between the two sets of boundaries, it had a real opportunity to produce an imaginative and constructive solution. It is unfortunate that it fell short on both counts. It is a shame that Committee members—apart from the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), whose party did not want any MSPs in the first place—appeared to pander to party political interests in a way that I thought had long since passed.

Having two MSPs per constituency with a tiny top-up, as the Committee proposed, could and in all likelihood would entirely destroy the proportional system on which the Scottish Parliament is based. Some Members, both here and in the Scottish Parliament, seem to see the wide range of parties and opinions that exists in the Scottish Parliament as its weakness. I prefer to see it as its strength. I may disagree profoundly with the politics of some of the parties in the Scottish Parliament, but that is democracy, and a fair representation of the way in which people in Scotland have voted.

The theory that the Scottish Parliament's standing will be enhanced by the creation of a chamber that, in party political terms, would be totally unrepresentative of the wider electorate is fanciful. Surely gerrymandering an electoral system so that one party—we all know which it would be: the Labour party—secured a whopping majority, perhaps 60 or 70 per cent. of the seats with less than 35 per cent. of electors' support, would be massively damaging to Scottish devolution. I urge the Secretary of State to oppose such narrow-minded proposals in every way that he knows.

If the impact on proportionality does not strike a chord with Labour members of the Committee, perhaps something else will: the fact that their proposals would tear up, at a stroke, the cross-party and cross-society consensus that was struck in the constitutional convention.

Alternatives to the Bill involve a reduction in the number of list MSPs, or their complete elimination. There is no doubt that list MSPs have caused some difficulty by cherry-picking. My predecessor, Donald Gorrie, produced an excellent document explaining how the single transferable vote could be used to elect MSPs, with the new Westminster boundaries forming coterminous constituencies. I commend that pamphlet to all Members.

Mr. Roy

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Barrett

I am sorry, but I have only one minute left.

Mr. Gorrie's pamphlet does not answer all the questions, but it sets out clearly and fairly the foundation on which a PR system could be used to form a Scottish Parliament.

The Bill is a welcome first step, but we must move forward, so that we improve our relationship with the Scottish Parliament and so that a fair, PR-elected Scottish Parliament can get on with the job of representing the people of Scotland.

9.30 pm
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)

This has been a good debate on a small Bill. When the Secretary of State opened the debate, he may have talked more about issues that were outside the remit of the Bill than was wise, but the debate has yet again brought the banter on Scottish affairs to the Floor of the House and I am sure that the wider public are delighted. The Scottish Grand Committee is a regular highlight in my diary and I am sure the wider public appreciate the debate this evening.

The debate has highlighted the scale of the Government's U-turn on the issue. It is useful to reflect on how far the Secretary of State—who, sadly, has not yet rejoined us—has travelled from the position that was put to the electorate in 1997.

During consideration of Lords amendments, the late Donald Dewar, then Secretary of State for Scotland, said: It is generally accepted that we cannot justify the above-average representation that Scotland enjoys in the House of Commons. It is anticipated, and I accept, that such a review will lead to a reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament, and correspondingly a reduction in the number of constituencies in Scotland. In the White Paper, we made it clear that the size of the Scottish Parliament would change to take account of changes at Westminster so as to maintain common boundaries."—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 380–81.1] That shows exactly how far we have travelled in only five years and to see the Secretary of State trying to justify that about-face was somewhat pitiful.

Mr. Salmond

The debate has already established that U-turns on this issue are not the sole preserve of the Government. However, I am more concerned about whether the hon. Gentleman is in the right place, as the monitors show that the business in the other place is the Mersey Tunnels Bill.

Mr. Duncan

The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I had been warned of that likelihood, so I am keeping my pager switched on in case I am called away for an urgent Division in another place.

The Secretary of State has reversed, in totality, one part of the commitment made by Donald Dewar in 1998. We also heard the astonishing revelation that the Secretary of State for Scotland, in whose constituency Scotland's major civil engineering project is being constructed and where £40 million from the taxpayers' budget has been translated into expenditure of £400 million, has never yet visited the Scottish Parliament. That says it all about London Labour. They have turned their back on what has become an embarrassment in their devolution project. They have turned their back on the Scotland Act 1998 and now we find that they have turned their back on the building itself.

I shall reflect on some of the points that were raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) demonstrated her obsession with the number 129. She said that the consensus on the constitutional convention was 129, yet she seemed unable to transfer that consensus to some of the other issues—she seems willing to break the consensus on them. For example, there was consensus on the list system, but the hon. Lady seems happy to contemplate alternatives, and rightly so. There was consensus on proportionality, but she seems happy to dispense with some of that. Her view of consensus seems somewhat selective.

Mrs. Irene Adams

The hon. Gentleman may recall that every witness to the Scottish Affairs Committee told us that the consensus was to maintain 129, but that the present system was not the ideal one to achieve it.

Mr. Duncan

The hon. Lady is right; there was consistency in terms of the evidence to the Committee in that respect.

The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) made a powerful speech in an old-Labour way, if he does not mind me characterising it thus—back to the future, as they say.

He reflected on the over-governance of Scotland, and on the fact that the two constituencies in Lanarkshire—I should point out that there are three: in addition to Dumfries and Clydesdale, the constituency of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale also falls within Lanarkshire—have 19 MSPs. I comprehend that particular difficulty. Last week, I attended a public meeting in the lovely village of Wanlockhead, which, for the benefit of viewers of the parliamentary channel, is the highest situated village in Scotland. Some 100 residents of Wanlockhead attended that meeting, along with one Member of Parliament—me. The constituency MSP was also there, along with two regional MSPs. There is some degree of public disquiet at the number of politicians in Scotland.

Mr. Hood

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my example of 19 MSPs in one constituency, but he is doubtless aware that the opposite problem is equally bad. In the south of Scotland, each list MSP claims eight constituencies. Is that not just as bad as 19 MSPs claiming one constituency?

Mr. Duncan

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap of asking me to justify a system that the Labour party created. If he has a problem with the relevant part of the 1998 Act, he should point it out to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The right hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)—[Interruption.] I apologise, I meant to say the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North; he has moved to my right, which is a very unusual situation for someone from Saltcoats to be in. He referred to a legislative follow-up to a political fix, and in that regard he got to the essence of today's debate. The Labour party in Scotland has got itself into a fix. It does not know how to dig itself out of an increasingly large hole, and the only way it can do so is to break some of the terms, to which I referred, of Donald Dewar's three-pronged commitment. The interrelationship between the reduction in MPs and MSPs was clear from the very start, and the U-turn in the Bill is also clear for all to see. The hon. Gentleman exposed the twists and turns that the Government have conducted to enforce that compromise, but to judge by the contributions from Government Back Benchers, that compromise still has some way to go before it receives universal acclaim.

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) mentioned being out and about in Blairgowrie, which sounds a very attractive prospect. He said that when on such travels, he discovered that people do not care about coterminosity. Although it is not an issue that people come to my surgery to discuss, it will cause concern in due course. The evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee was crystal clear, and as the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), will know, given that he is a member of the Committee, there is concern about this issue. In reflecting on the second election to the Scottish Parliament, for which less than half the population turned out to vote, we must consider each and every possibility in order to redress declining participation in elections north of the border. It is a mistake for the hon. Member for North Tayside to dismiss coterminosity because it does not suit his party political advantage.

Mr. Wilson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is hardly surprising that nobody is concerned about coterminosity while it exists, and that the real test will be whether they are concerned about it when it does not?

Mr. Duncan

Absolutely. As it says in the song: You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) made clear his view that list MSPs do not engage people in the party political process, but I should point out that, of course, the Scotland Act 1998 was not our work. He rightly pointed out that 13 per cent. of the electorate said that they did not vote in the May elections because of confusion. I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North—we must regard that as a very serious issue.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna) highlighted the consistent policies of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, which I am keen to have put on the parliamentary record. She was the only Government Back Bencher to back the Government, which will mark her out for universal acclaim in the Whips Office tomorrow. I am only sorry that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not in his place and that he missed that uniquely supportive contribution.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), as Donald Dewar's successor, deserves special mention. He supported me in Committee when I suggested that the simple way of dealing with the problem was to implement the Scotland Act. He saw the wisdom in that suggestion and I am delighted to have his support. He may have had three speeches in mind tonight, but he picked the right one to deliver.

We are left contemplating tonight the confirmation in today's debate that the Government have finally abandoned the Scotland Act. They have buckled under pressure to the vested interests that see big government and bigger parliaments as ends in themselves. Why else would they have retreated in such dramatic and pathetic fashion from their commitment to reduce the size of the Scottish Parliament before the first Member of the Scottish Parliament has even taken possession of his office in a scandalously expensive project? Why else would they have reversed the view of Ministers during the passage of the 1998 Act that the Parliament could work well with fewer Members?

I reiterate the words of Henry McLeish, who said that we also believe that the Parliament could operate effectively with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies."—[Official Report, 12 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 224.] For the record, that was the former First Minister, who made his views very clear. This is a self-serving consensus of every party, save the Scottish Conservatives, that is determined to inflict more politicians, more bureaucrats and more governance on the hard-pressed taxpayer in Scotland. The political landscape in Scotland is entirely clear. All the other parties from which we have heard this evening—albeit that Labour Back Benchers are perhaps a party themselves so there are honourable exceptions—are unable to contemplate a devolved Scotland being governed by any fewer than 129 MSPs. Would it have been any different if the number of MSPs had been 200 or 250? The simple truth is that political parties have become consumed with their own importance and have forgotten the interests of the man on the street. He or she is tired of Scotland's over-governing, as demonstrated by the declining turnout at elections.

Who would have thought that fewer than one in two people would vote in the second elections to the Scottish Parliament—a Parliament for which, as the Government were so keen to point out, we had been waiting for 300 years. Four years on, fewer than half wanted to participate in the Parliament's re-election. Let there be no doubt that that was partly due to there being too many politicians in Scotland—and the public knowing it.

The Bill is necessary only because of the Government's commitment in the Scotland Act to reduce the number of Members representing Scottish constituencies. After devolution, there was no longer a need for such wide-ranging Bills applicable only in Scotland. Our distinct legal system meant that our historic over-representation was due to our need to consider large quantities of Scotland-only Bills. That no longer applies and I hope that the Under-Secretary will, in her reply, go further than she and others have done to date and confirm that she expects to have implemented the changes of the boundary commission for Scotland by the end of the Session. With local inquiries complete and no requirement to allocate the new constituencies to Scottish parliamentary regions, there is no further excuse for the Government's failure to commit on that issue.

Some hon. Members will have sought mischievously to suggest that this issue should not be voted on by hon. Members representing seats other than those in Scotland. I am happy to make it clear for those who are happy to obfuscate that issue, that this is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament, so all hon. Members are entitled to participate on that basis.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against this unnecessary legislation, which will serve only to keep the number of politicians in Scotland at an inordinately high level. I would be delighted if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland felt able to do the same. The Scotland Act was designed so that the number of MSPs would fall to 108 as the number of Holyrood constituencies fell in line with Westminster ones. That is precisely what should happen. It is becoming clear that the Conservatives are the only party with respect for the devolved settlement that is seeking neither to tinker with nor to undermine it.

Although we do not believe that the Scotland Act is set in tablets of stone, we feel that there is no need to open it up at this early stage. Scotland has too many politicians and Scotland's people suffer too much from political interference. The self-serving consensus of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish nationalist politicians, who want to keep it that way, are not only costing taxpayers dear but are putting the electorate off participating in elections.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

An old phrase came to mind when I listened to the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) summing up for the Opposition: "Everyone's out of step, except our Jake." It appears that if everyone else in Scotland agrees on something and the Conservative party and its spokesperson do not, it is we who are wrong, and never them.

I wish to deal with some of the issues that have been raised by quotation before summing up the debate. It is worth reminding the House that when the Scotland Bill was debated in 1998, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), now co-chairman of Conservative party, said: It is not a good basis on which to start a Parliament—knowing that. very soon afterwards, possibly within its first term and certainly within its second, there will be a major redistribution. It is not a recipe for stability."—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 387.] We can bandy quotations across the Floor of the House tonight, but to be frank I do not think that they add anything to the argument.

We have had a vibrant, robust and, for the most part, good-humoured debate. Clearly, Parliamentary constituency boundaries and problems about the overlap and respective responsibilities of MPs and MSPs are matters that generate considerable interest among hon. Members—certainly among many of my hon. Friends, and I will look round at them now and again just to make sure that they are still with me.

Quite a number of comments have been made about devolution itself and the operation of the Scottish Parliament. I will certainly try to pick up on some of the main points, but I want to make a general comment. As a Government, we are committed to modernising this country's political and constitutional agenda, and we are delivering on that modernisation agenda. The success of devolution is that it has undoubtedly brought government closer to the people of Scotland on a wide range of matters that affect their day-to-day lives. Indeed, devolution has made a difference.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated a few hours ago, this short Bill is focused on a relatively straightforward objective: to remove the statutory link in the Scotland Act 1998 between the number of constituencies at Westminster and the number at Holyrood. Before we embarked on this action, we conducted a consultation exercise to take into account the views of many groups and interests across Scotland, and more than 230 replies were received.

Mr. Salmond

There is now a Division in the Lords.

When I asked the Secretary of State at the start of the debate why the matter that we were considering could not be left to the Scottish Parliament, he said that I wanted that to happen because I was a nationalist. Can the hon. Lady tell me of any legislative assembly—devolved or otherwise—anywhere in the world that does not have control over its own electoral system, except that in Scotland?

Mrs. McGuire

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, this is a settlement in the United Kingdom, not in any other part of the world. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but he cannot just import what happens in other parts of the world into the United Kingdom. We all understand that the settlement was agreed by the Scottish people.

I want to reflect for a couple of moments on the extent of the replies that we received before embarking on the Bill. We had 237 responses in total, and 28 from a range of civic bodies, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Unison, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Green party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party, the Scottish Socialist party and a variety of other constituency parties or groups.

All those organisations and individuals support the policy of retaining 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. I hope that we will have no argument about the fact that what we are reflecting today is the views, after consultation, of people in Scotland and the organisations that they are affiliated to or trust.

Mr. Duncan

If the balance of the argument is so clear-cut, why was it not foreseen in 1998 when the hon. Lady's colleagues in government made it clear that the number had to remain at 129 before being reduced?

Mrs. McGuire

I suppose that if I were a generous woman—which I am—I would say that the hon. Member for Woodspring identified the problem. That is one reason why, in the debates in this House and in the other place, we gave ourselves the opportunity to come back and consider what we should do about the numbers in the Scottish Parliament once the legislation that created it had been enacted. We were building a new Parliament in Scotland—not a just physical building, but a whole new way of governance—and it was important to make the best possible attempt to do that in 1998. We did that in good faith. Now that the Parliament has been in place for four or five years, we have consulted, and the overwhelming majority of the responses from civic and political society in Scotland is that 129 MSPs are needed at the moment to organise a Scottish Parliament.

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) seems to be obsessed by the boundary commission, but I reiterate once again the Secretary of State's commitment that the Bill will have no impact on our commitment to reducing the number of constituencies represented at Westminster. Action will be taken on that front once the boundary commission has reported with its recommendations to my right hon. Friend.

As my right hon. Friend also highlighted, we have been mindful of the views that have been expressed about the possibility of practical and other difficulties that might arise from the creation of a new set of constituency boundaries. The debate today has shown clearly that there is a range of views on the extent of the potential problems and even more so—dare I say it?—on their solutions.

It is also worth reflecting that when the consultation was undertaken, there was no absolutely no mention in any meaningful sense of the idea that a lack of coterminosity—or whatever word we use to describe it—would be an issue. It is only latterly that we have incorporated some of the difficulties or perceived difficulties that might result from a lack of coterminous boundaries. However, I remind hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friends, that in Scottish politics we have operated for a long time, particularly in the local government sphere, with a lack of coterminous boundaries. We have managed to deal with the issues.

I hope that by bringing forward the timetable to establish an independent body to look in depth at those and related matters, we will allay many of the concerns that were expressed by Members on both sides. I am confident that most of the points made about the potential difficulties of operating within different constituency boundaries can be analysed and solutions found as necessary through the review.

I shall now cover some of the individual points that have been raised in the debate. I thank all those who have participated, because the debate has been good humoured and robust and much political experience has been brought to bear. I particularly thank my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons), for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna), for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) and for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson).

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North is the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee and I know that she played a key role in producing the report with her colleagues. I hope that she will accept that some of the Committee's recommendations will now legitimately be within the domain of the new commission. I trust that that will allay some of the fears that members of the Committee have expressed.

I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has welcomed the establishment of the commission. I again reiterate the answer to the question about the proportionality of the electoral system.

We all recognise that the principles of the devolution settlement were laid down by a cross-party consensus in the constitutional convention. Any changes to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament must reflect those principles and command cross-party and non-party support in Scotland.

I hope that I can comfort my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale because I know that he is concerned about whether the decision about electoral systems and coterminosity will be made by an amorphous, independent review. The decision will be made by this Parliament and not by the commission. This Parliament must ultimately decide what it wants to do about the electoral system and any other recommendations from the commission.

Mr. Hood

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for seeking to comfort me. Is she saying that the recommendation will not appear before the House on a one-clause three-line Whip?

Mrs. McGuire

I must say to my hon. Friend that I am thankful that I am no longer a member of the Whips Office—I was a member for four years. He is experienced enough to know that Government business is Government business is Government business.

I would like to highlight the touching naivety of the hon. Member for North Tayside. He specifically asked whether we would fight an election on the existing boundaries if one were called for two months' time. Given that we have discussed trying to arrange a postal ballot seven months hence with the electoral returning officers in Scotland, I would be astonished if we could reorganise the boundaries within two months in time for any potential election that the hon. Gentleman may have in his imagination. When he discusses national Parliaments, he should remember that this is a national Parliament—it is the United Kingdom Parliament.

Pete Wishart

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. McGuire

No, I must go on.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth not only on her wholehearted support for the Bill this evening but on her long history of support, activity and campaigning both for the Scottish Parliament and for increased gender recognition in all elected bodies—she is also my Member of Parliament.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid)—I do not know whether he is in the House at the moment—on working through the morass, as he put it, of local names and constituencies in Argyll and Bute. I must tell him that the naming of constituencies is a matter for the boundary commission and not for the Government.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South that we want to continue winning. The debate is not for anoraks; it is about ensuring that we get the best possible government for Scotland. He also said that he was pleased that he was not elected for Central Scotland when he was put on top of the list.

I appreciate that a number of hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, are not yet entirely comfortable with our proposals. However, we are in a period of change and development for our constitution. The Bill marks a small but important step in consolidating progress, and I ask the House to support it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 333, Noes 127.

Division No. 47] [9:59 pm
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Barron, rh Kevin
Ainger, Nick Battle, John
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Bayley, Hugh
Alexander, Douglas Beard, Nigel
Allen, Graham Beckett, rh Margaret
Anderson, Janet(Rossendale & Begg, Miss Anne
Darwen) Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Beith, rh A. J.
Atherton, Ms Candy Bennett, Andrew
Atkins, Charlotte Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Baird, Vera Berry, Roger
Baker, Norman Best, Harold
Banks, Tony Betts, Clive
Barrett, John Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Blizzard, Bob Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Borrow, David Efford, Clive
Bradley, Peter(The Wrekin) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradshaw, Ben Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Breed, Colin Ewing, Annabelle
Brennan, Kevin Farrelly, Paul
Brooke, Mrs Annette L Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Fitzpatrick, Jim
Wallsend) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Flint, Caroline
Browne, Desmond Flynn, Paul(Newport W)
Bruce, Malcolm Follett, Barbara
Bryant, Chris Foster, rh Derek
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings
Burden, Richard & Rye)
Burgon, Colin Francis, Dr. Hywel
Burnham, Andy Gardiner, Barry
Byers, rh Stephen Gerrard, Neil
Caborn, rh Richard Gibson, Dr. Ian
Cairns, David Gidley, Sandra
Calton, Mrs Patsy Gilroy, Linda
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Goggins, Paul
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Fife) Grogan, John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hain, rh Peter
Caplin, Ivor Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Carmichael, Alistair Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Casale, Roger Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Caton, Martin Hancock, Mike
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Hanson, David
Challen, Colin Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Chaytor, David Healey, John
Clapham, Michael Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clark, Mrs Helen(Peterborough) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Hendrick, Mark
Pentlands) Hepburn, Stephen
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Heppell, John
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Hermon, Lady
Chryston) Hesford, Stephen
Clelland, David Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Heyes, David
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hodge, Margaret
Cohen, Harry Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Colman, Tony Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Connarty, Michael Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Cooper, Yvette Hope, Phil (Corby)
Cotter, Brian Hopkins, Kelvin
Cruddas, Jon Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Howarth, George (Knowsley N &
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Sefton E)
Cummings, John Howells, Dr. Kim
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack Hoyle, Lindsay
(Copeland) Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Urmston)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Humble, Mrs Joan
Dalyell, Tam Hutton, rh John
Darling, rh Alistair Iddon, Dr. Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ingram, rh Adam
David, Wayne Irranca-Davies, Huw
Davies, rh Denzil(Llanelli) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jamieson, David
Dawson, Hilton Jenkins, Brian
Dean, Mrs Janet Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Denham, rh John Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dhanda, Parmjit Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood) Jowell, rh Tessa
Dobson, rh Frank Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Donohoe, Brian H. Kaufman, rh Gerald
Doran, Frank Keeble, Ms Sally
Doughty, Sue Keen, Alan (Feftham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford) Purnell, James
Khabra, Piara S. Quin, rh Joyce
Kidney, David Quinn, Lawrie
Kilfoyle, Peter Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
King, Andy (Rugby) Raynsford, rh Nick
Kirkwood, Sir Archy Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Knight Jim (S Dorset) Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Bellshill)
Lamb, Norman Rendel, David
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Lazarowicz, Mark Robertson, John (Glasgow
Lepper, David Anniesland)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen NW)
Linton, Martin Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rooney, Terry
Love, Andrew Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) Ruane, Chris
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin) Ruddock, Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McCabe, Stephen Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
McCafferty, Chris Salmond, Alex
McCartney, rh Ian Salter, Martin
MacDonald, Calum Sanders, Adrian
McDonnell, John Sarwar, Mohammad
MacDougall, John Savidge, Malcolm
McFall, John Sawford, Phil
McGuire, Mrs Anne Sedgemore, Brian
McIsaac, Shona Shaw, Jonathan
McKechin, Ann Sheerman, Barry
McKenna, Rosemary Sheridan, Jim
McNulty, Tony Short, rh Clare
Mactaggart, Fiona Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
McWalter. Tony Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mahmood, Khalid Skinner, Dennis
Mandelson, rh Peter Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW) Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &
Marsden, Gordon(Blackpool S) Finsbury)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &
Martlew, Eric Lunesdale)
Michael, rh Alun Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Miliband, David Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns &
Miller, Andrew Kincardine)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Soley, Clive
Mole, Chris Steinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Stevenson, George
Moore, Michael Stewart, David (Inverness E &
Moran, Margaret Lochaber)
Morley, Elliot Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mountford, Kali Stinchcombe, Paul
Mudie, George Stoate, Dr. Howard
Munn, Ms Meg Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stunell, Andrew
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Öpik, Lembit Teather, Sarah
Owen, Albert Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Palmer, Dr. Nick Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Perham, Linda Thurso, John
Picking, Anne Timms, Stephen
Pickthall, Colin Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Trickett, Jon
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Kemptown)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham Turner, Neil (Wigan)
E) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prescott, rh John Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Prosser, Gwyn Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Pugh, Dr. John Watts, David
Purchase, Ken Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael Wishart, Pete
White, Brian Woodward, Shaun
Whitehead, Dr. Alan Woolas, Phil
Wicks, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Williams, Betty (Conwy) Yarmouth)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Williams, Roger (Brecon) Wyatt, Derek
Willis, Phil
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster Mr. Fraser Kemp and
C) Gillian Merron
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Arbuthnot, rh James Jenkin, Bernard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Bacon, Richard Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Barker, Gregory Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Baron, John (Billericay) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Beresford, Sir Paul Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Boswell, Tim Leigh, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Letwin, rh Oliver
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Surrey) Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Brady, Graham Lilley, rh Peter
Brazier, Julian Llwyd, Elfyn
Browning, Mrs Angela Loughton, Tim
Burnside, David Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Burt, Alistair McIntosh, Miss Anne
Butterfill, Sir John Mackay, rh Andrew
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Maclean, rh David
Barnet) McLoughlin, Patrick
Chope, Christopher Maude, rh Francis
Clappison, James Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) May, Mrs Theresa
Collins, Tim Mercer, Patrick
Curry, rh David Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Coldfield)
Stamford) Moss, Malcolm
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Howden) Norman, Archie
Djanogly, Jonathan O'Brien, Stephen(Eddisbury)
Dorrell, rh Stephen Osborne, George (Tatton)
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Page, Richard
Duncan, Peter (Galloway) Paice, James
Evans, Nigel Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Portillo, rh Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Westminster) Randall, John
Flight, Howard Redwood, rh John
Flook, Adrian Robathan, Andrew
Forth, rh Eric Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Rosindell, Andrew
Garnier, Edward Sayeed, Jonathan
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Selous, Andrew
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shepherd, Richard
Goodman, Paul Simmonds, Mark
Gray, James (N Wilts) Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Green, Damian (Ashford) Soames, Nicholas
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Hague, rh William Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Hammond, Philip Spring, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Steen, Anthony
Hayes, John (S Holland) Streeter, Gary
Heald, Oliver Swayne, Desmond
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Swire, Hugo(E Devon)
Hendry, Charles Syms, Robert
Hoban, Mark (Fareham) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hogg, rh Douglas Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Horam, John (Orpington) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Howard, rh Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tredinnick, David
Hunter, Andrew Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Jack, rh Michael Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Waterson, Nigel (Macclesfield)
Watkinson, Angela Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Whittingdale, John Young, rh Sir George
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill Tellers for the Noes:
Wilshire, David Hugh Robertson and
Winterton, Ann (Congleton) Mr. Mark Francois

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

    1. c1230
    2. Committal 13 words
    3. c1230
    4. Proceedings 90 words
    5. c1230
    6. Programming Committee 19 words
    7. c1230
    8. Programming of proceedings 34 words
  2. EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS BILL (PROGRAMME) (NO.2) 1,864 words, 1 division
  3. c1237
  5. cc1237-9
    1. c1237
    3. c1238
    5. c1238
    7. c1238
    9. c1238
    11. PETITION
    12. cc1238-9
    13. Horse Riding (Castle Point) 280 words