HL Deb 04 April 1978 vol 390 cc11-107

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)

May I draw the attention of the Committee to the note in heavy type at the top of the Marshalled List. This refei s to a new system of marshalling Amendments which has been adopted to avoid the cumbersome series of letters which were sometimes necessary under our old system. Under the new system, any Amendments tabled after the first Marshalled List has been printed will be numbered consecutively, following on from the last number used. This is a little complicated, but I think it will be readily understood if I explain by an example.

There were 220 Amendments tabled when the list was first sent to the printers, so the next Amendment put down was number 221 although, as your Lordships will see, it is in fact the third Amendment on the Marshalled List. I believe that the new system will be a considerable improvement on the one that we used before.

Clause 1 [The Scottish Assembly]:

The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8, leave out ("Assembly") and insert ("Convention").

The noble Earl said: In moving the first Amendment, I am sure that the Committee will have been very glad to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that this Bill required consultation and co-operation. No doubt he will endorse what his right honourable friend the Secretary of State said: that it required common sense and goodwill. This is even more necessary because, so far as 1 am aware, no single Member of either House has so far endorsed without qualification this Bill. I doubt very much whether many noble Lords will express a paean of praise for the quality of draftmanship, and I shall be surprised if some at least do not say that it is rather difficult to follow exactly how the Bill is proposed to be worked out. We shall therefore hope to have from the Government a practical demonstration of common sense and co-operation. It is with this hope that I beg to move the first Amendment on the Marshalled List.

In leaving out the word ,"Assembly", I do so for the best possible reason: that already in Edinburgh there is an organisation called "The Assembly". To use the same name for two places less than a mile apart would cause great confusion, and confusion lends itself to friction. There already exists the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which has had, and still has, a deep significance in the life and the history of Scotland. Indeed, it is part of the life of Scotland in a way which is perhaps difficult for some English Members wholly to appreciate. The General Assembly is part of the calendar. One can say, "I will meet somebody in Assembly Week". It is part of the language. One can ask anybody, "Are you a member of Assembly this year?" It is reported, for people say, "Have you read what the Assembly has stated on this particular point?"

Although we call it the "Scottish Assembly" here, it is quite clear that, if we use the word, it will be known in Scotland as the "Assembly". There will certainly be, in the jargon, an adjective added to it. It is not for me to say what that adjective may be. It might be called the "New Assembly", "the political Assembly", "the Parliamentary Assembly", "the legislative Assembly", or simply "the Royal High School Assembly". Obviously, some adjectives of that kind will be used.

May I go a step further and say that in Scotland the General Assembly is essentially an indigenous institution which has taken root in the soil of Scotland. In that body there is represented every parish in Scotland, and it has played a dominating and considerable part in the history of Scotland. The only comparable influence in England is that of Parliament. The new Assembly has been devised by a Committee on the shores of the River Thames and will certainly be regarded as a new organisation.

It is very important that the relationship between these two bodies should he harmonious. They will need to be very closely watched. Again, may I say that if there is confusion here it may very well lead to friction. There is a further point. For a very long time the General Assembly has been extremely closely connected with the Sovereign. There have been times in history when the Assembly has bullied the Sovereign; there have been times in history when the Sovereign has bullied the Assembly. Now they have reached an agreement whereby the Sovereign does not summon the Assembly as he did once and the Assembly does not meet without the presence of the Sovereign in person or of her representative.

This raises an interesting point. There is one assembly—the General Assembly—which has a personal relationship with the Sovereign and none with Parliament and the other assembly which has a close relationship with Parliament and none with the Sovereign. This is a delicate situation which might lead to a much more difficult situation. There are some who say today that these religious organisations do not matter and that now we have "one man one vote" and majority rule this kind of consideration can be superseded. I doubt whether this House would lend much currency to such a theory and I believe it to be wholly irrelevant.

I suggest the word "Convention", and I should like to say straight away that my mind is fairly open as to what word should be used as a name. All I would say is that the confusion of using the same word as one which exists should be avoided; this is in the true interest of the new organisation which we arc setting up. There is absolutely no political connotation in this whatsoever; it is simply in the interests of the organisation.

The word, "Convention", has been used for the Scottish Parliament. It was the word originally recommended in the first examination of this matter; my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel used the word "Convention" in his report and the only organisation I know of which can be in any way compared to this is the Convention of Local Authorities which I believe has now been in existence for two years, since the new Local Government Act, and has taken the place of the Convention of Royal Burghs, which has ceased to exist. This is not a statutory organisation; it deals primarily with the exchange of relations with local authorities as such and, while I would not say that it is not important, I do not think it would ever go by the name of "the" Convention. Therefore, in my opinion "Convention" is quite a suitable name, although I would not say it is the only name that can be used. What I do say is that "Assembly" as a name is quite unsuitable and cannot be accepted.

If noble Lords do not agree with this, why do we not go straight for it and say "the Scottish Parliament"? I think I know the answer to that: they are frightened of being confused with the Westminster Parliament and I think that is a perfectly sound reason. But for the success of this Bill it would be quite wrong to have a confusion which might lead to friction, and therefore I consider it would be both foolish and quite unacceptable to agree to this name. I beg to move.


I wish to support briefly what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said, but I cannot help commenting that he seemed to me to stop short in his selection of the adjectives which might be applied to the new Assembly. I speak as one who frankly hopes that this whole measure will fail. The referendum is the point—and certainly not your Lordships' House—at which to decide whether or not the measure is to go through. The referendum must be the eventual battlefield. If it does go through, then I and everyone else who hopes that it will fail will then support the measure to the full. We shall buckle to and make it work as perfectly as is possible.

One of the advantages of it could, I hope and pray, be to de-politicise the debates of the General Assembly. For want of a Scottish Parliament for 270 years, the General Assembly has been tempted, for obvious reasons, to depart from confining itself to matters which would normally be considered to be the concern of the Church, and has embarked on many things which many of us think are "outwith its remit"—if I may use a Scotticism—especially the Church and Nation Committee which has sometimes paddled in very deep water.

We have become used to the word, "Assembly", in all the discussions we have had on this measure. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, in the committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Home, was chairman and of which I was one of the four non-Party members, we discussed the present problems and the Convention at some length, but the word "Assembly" crept in and has stuck; and I share the hope of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that we might get rid of it. It is confusing. As the noble Earl said, the General Assembly has been an institution for so long that "the Assembly" tout court in Scotland means "the General Assembly". I am one of two Members of your Lordships' House who have had the great honour of being Lord High Commissioner at that Assembly, as the brother of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, the late Duke of Hamilton had on, I believe, four occasions. It is a very specialised institution, and I do not think it is too late to substitute the word "Convention" for the word "Assembly". The word "Convention" has a long and honourable history. I believe it would be accepted in Scotland, and most Scottish Members of your Lordships' House would agree with that. Beyond that, it would be otiose to add to what the noble Earl has said.


I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that if we were to change the name it should have been changed to "the Scottish Parliament". I see no reason why it should not have been called that; but we have called it "the Assembly", and I am afraid it has been accepted in Scotland as "the Assembly", and to change it again to "Convention"—to which I have no great objection—would not help the Bill which, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, I want to see go through to the Statute Book.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland stands on its own feet. I do not think that anything we do with a political assembly can harm it or indeed confuse it in the minds of the people of Scotland. It is known always as "the General Assembly", "the Assembly" for short, and it is firmly fixed in the minds of the people of Scotland and I cannot see any real confusion arising. In my view to call the Assembly after the General Assembly is a compliment: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I and my noble friends on these Benches think that it would be a great pity at this stage to change the name to "Convention".

3.7 p.m.


In effect the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said that it is too late to change; and if that is his point of view, then I am not quite sure what this Committee is doing. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that confusion about the name will lead to friction; I say that it will lead to ridicule. The very proposal that the Scottish Legislature should bear this name proves one thing beyond anything else—that the Bill was drawn up by Englishmen with no knowledge of Scotland or Scottish sentiment. It is a term that usurps one deeply venerated for more than 400 years. It affronts a body whose origins go much further back—more than 700 years. I am referring to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland, which is the Established Church.

The General Assembly is sui generis. It is distinctive in a number of respects. only some of which have been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. For nearly three centuries it has been the people's only voice outwith Westminster. Its relationship with the civil power is exceptional; it always meets in the presence of the Sovereign or his or her High Commissioner. For more than four centuries, except for two quite short gaps, it has always met in the presence either of the Sovereign or of his or her Lord High Commissioner. The erstwhile National Synod, from which the General Assembly claims lineal descent, from 1225 onwards always met in the presence either of the Sovereign or of his or her High Commissioner. The General Assembly opens with an Address either by the Sovereign or his or her Lord High Commissioner. Until the Disruption was healed it was the Sovereign who always appointed the time and place of the General Assembly's next meeting. When the Sovereign is represented by a High Commissioner he arrives for opening and closing the Assembly with the maximum panoply of State, attended formally and in solemnity by the Lord Lyon and his entire Court. For close on 150 years, whenever the Sovereign could not attend in person, his High Commissioner resided at the Palace of Holyrood House and held court there in the Sovereign's name.

I personally do not adhere to the Presbyterian. Church of Scotland; I am a member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland and thus a non-conformist. But whatever our Church allegiance in Scotland. Scotsmen know the General Assembly, Scotsmen love the General Assembly, Scotsmen revere the General Assembly. When they say "Assembly" they mean the General Assembly; they mean something historically their very own. Protests at the threatened usurpation of this name were voiced in a formal resolution passed by the General Assembly on 25th May 1976. It is all in the public record and should surely have been known to those who drafted this Bill—that is to say, if the drafters had any greater interest in Scottish affairs than a tidy concern for their imagined electoral advantage.

How, then, should this subordinate Legislature be named? There are three historic alternatives to hand. The first is the term "Convention", which we have used in this Amendment. The second is the term "Estates", and the third is a combination of the two, a "Convention of the Estates". The term "Convention" has always in the past had a political connotation. Back in the 13th century, before the Scottish Parliament even took shape, the Convention was used for the gathering of the Royal Burghs meeting to legislate, and, may I add, meeting to legislate on trade and finance. That was the origin of the Convention of the Royal Burghs. In the 16th century the term was used for the Convention of Estates. The Convention of Estates was a Standing Committee of the Scots Parliament with legislative and fiscal functions, something not very greatly different perhaps from the Legislature which is now proposed.

Since the Union of the Parliaments the term "Convention" has been used in three connections, all of them political. It was used for informal gatherings—which I am sure my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie would have joined enthusiastically had he then been alive—to express radical sentiments in the 18th and 19th centuries, and I am happy to say that was a temporary phenomenon. The latterday Convention of Royal Burghs was set up in relatively recent years, during this century, and was abolished with the last reform of local government.

The present Convention of Local Authorities is but two years old. It is a non-statutory body, as has already been said. It was formed not to legislate but to look at legislation. It is a body whose operations are purely contingent and advisory. It will doubtless be said from the Government Benches that if we call this new Legislature a Convention we clash with the Convention of Local Authorities. If so, we clash with a non-statutory body which could quite easily change its own name, say, to "Association"; there would he no great difficulty about that.

So, the term "Convention" clashes only with a body two years old which could change. "Convention of Estates" clashes with nothing. "Estates" clashes with nothing. So here are three alternatives. When there are three historically plausible names available, why, oh why, affront national taste and custom by usurping the General Assembly's status, by trying to steal the General Assembly's prestige in defiance of that body's expressed wish? Devolution is sometimes presented as a liberation of our people. If any Parliamentary Act could accomplish that, if there be any purely legislative path towards Scotland's renaissance of heart and regeneration of spirit, which I beg leave to doubt, surely a colossal historical howler is scarcely the way to begin.

3.17 p.m.


I thought that, as the other side had had a good turn, I might offer a few observations. What does it really matter what title you apply to this organisation? What does matter is what powers are to be vested in this organisation. In my experience, this is the worst case of putting the cart before the horse that has been exhibited for some time. The first thing to do when you create an or ganisation is to decide what it is for. Is it to be an organisation vested with powers and with authority, or is it to be an organisation which is restricted at every turn, subject to the powers vested in the Secretary of State at Westminster, subject to this and subject to that? What kind of organisation is it, and does it really matter? So it all comes down to this: what is most suitable for the people in Scotland who are enthusiastic about devolution?

We got an example from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. He would like it to be described as a Parliament. If it were to be described as a Parliament we should he going a bit too far. This would be resented not by the English and the Welsh but by a very large number of people in Scotland. In any event, it would mean that it must be invested with full authority; otherwise it would be no Parliament. We have had this example in the case of the EEC, which has been referred to frequently. Those Members of your Lordships' House who have been "promoted" (that term can be used) are from time to time transported at the tax-payers' cost—or is it at EEC cost? I am not quite sure, but it does not matter very much, it is a mere trifle—to what was called an Assembly, though some have described it as a Parliament.

It is all a question of prestige; if you belong to an Assembly it is not as important as belonging to a Parliament. Indeed I would go so far, with great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk—to whom I always listen with keen interest because he speaks with great and remarkable logic—as to ask what, after all, is a "Convention"? The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, spoke about the Convention of Royal Burghs as if the Convention of Royal Burghs in Scotland had been vested with remarkable powers. It had nothing of the sort. It was a purely advisory body. It had no power to initiate legislation, but it could recommend and advise.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for giving way. The original 13th century Convention of Royal Burghs had legislative powers. As the noble Lord has said, the modern Convention of Royal Burghs has none.


The Convention of Royal Burghs never initiated a piece of legislation which it could carry through—it depended on whether Westminster would accept it. I, like the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, have a fair bit of experience of Scottish politics and I remember that this Convention was regarded pretty much as a title conferred on a number of people as a matter of prestige—it was a type of honour. However, as regards real authority there was nothing of the sort.

I shall not argue the matter at great length, but it is really a question of what is more suitable to the people in Scotland. The term "Assembly" has been used. A large number of people in Scotland want devolution—as I have said, the principle is the important consideration—and would prefer the term "Assembly". If we say "Convention" they will think that we are running away and seeking to depart from the principles which for them are of fundamental importance. Quite frankly, to me it does not matter whether there is an "Assembly" or a "Convention". I think that the whole business is a lot of nonsense, and I am quite serious about that.

If I may refer to the Second Reading debate, I endeavoured, perhaps not with much success, to convince my colleagues in your Lordships' House that what we had to decide was not the details of devolution, once the principle was accepted, but whether we believed in the principle of devolution at all. Apparently, a majority in your Lordships' House does. However, when it comes down to the brass tacks and the details of the powers to be vested in this body, then we are up against a whole series of problems. We shall find that situation in the course of our Committee stage, Report stage and so on, and we shall find it when we refer any of our Amendments to another place.

Perhaps I may digress for a moment on what might be called a Second Reading aspect. If it had been left to me, I should have created a body out of the regional authorities that were established under the last local government transformation. They are very important—for example, there is Strathclyde and various others. Very important people are associated with these organisations. They are vested with a measure of autonomy and they can introduce legislation, but it is true that they do so subject to Westminster. Nevertheless, if they had been brought together in some kind of body—call it an Assembly, a Convention or a Parliament—it would have been quite enough, for there would have been an election of a great many people who would be in conflict with the people at Westminster.

The whole thing is a piece of tarradiddle and should never have been started at all. Anyway, now we have it and we must make the best of a bad job. I suggest that the best way of making the best of a bad job is to succumb to the somewhat moderate enthusiasm that is now manifested in Scotland about this issue and the even more tepid enthusiasm on this side of the Border and let them have their Assembly. Let them have something out of it. At the end of the day, they will have precious little out of it, but let them have a name.

3.24 p.m.


At the earliest moment it should be made clear that we are not leaving this Bill entirely to the Scots. The Bill affects the United Kingdom. At the earliest minute we who are not Scots must stake our claim to have something to say about it, even about a matter as minor as this first Amendment. If there is any damage to be done by this Bill—and I think that there is a lot—it will not damage just Scotland; it will damage the United Kingdom. Let us begin by recognising that fact.

We have heard excellent speeches from four Scotsmen. I think that the "Clyde-side" association of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, brings him into that category. I hope that during this Committee stage other Members from other parts of the United Kingdom will give their attention to try to minimise the dangers that may flow from this Bill. I think that my noble friend made a very good case in terms of his Amendment. There would be a clash. "Assembly" is known to mean something else, and it would not be possible for this new Assembly to be able to take over the mantle that is already very clearly on the shoulders of the other Assembly.

I do not like "Convention". With all the historic background that my noble friend Lord Lauderdale gave to it, the reaction to "Convention" is not what it may have been in the 13th century. When we talk about a Convention today the first thing that springs to mind is the American Convention, and we know what that means. All sorts of things flow from that. Therefore, I do not think that either "Assembly" or "Convention" would really fit in with what the people behind this Bill intend to mean. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, cannot have a Parliament. This Bill does not give the powers of Parliament. One of the problems is that if, as the separates wish, it is going to do any good at all it ought to have the powers of Parliament, but that would cause great clash and even more damage as far as the United Kingdom is concerned; or, in terms of Westminster, it ought to have less power than it has now. They have too many Members.


Will the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, remember the Parliament at Stormont which was constantly referred to as the Northern Ireland Parliament?


The Northern Ireland Parliament was known as Stormont. It was not referred to as a Parliament nor did it act, in the sense that we are discussing, as a Parliament. I do not think that we ought to be purely negative on this issue. The point is made very clearly that it ought not to be an Assembly because, as my noble friend has said, there is a clash. It is most interesting that almost the first word in the discussion during the Committee stage of this Bill on a matter as minor as this has been "clash"—a clash because of the name of the title. I think that it will be full of clashes all the way through the Committee stage, and if the Bill ever becomes a Statute I think that the clash will he even bigger and more dangerous.

However, if we are proceeding on the basis that something might happen, the suggestion I should like to make to my noble friend is that we do not call it an Assembly or a Convention, but a Moot—a Scottish Moot. If we want an historical base for justifying that then I can give your Lordships a very clear one. Indeed, it may well incorporate what my noble friend has in mind because the dictionary definition of a "Moot" is: An assembly of people". Therefore, the dictionary definition of a Moot would fulfil the present "Assembly"name that is given to it without it having the clash and the problems that may arise out of another Assembly.


Of course, the word "Moot" will clash with the word "Mod" because they are the same word.


I have not finished with the word "Moot" in terms of the dictionary.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Is it not possible that the whole of the noble Lord's idea is "re-moot" from reality?


I do not think that that is worthy of your Lordships' House. I am very seriously putting forward the word "Moot" if it is any justification for what has already been said by my noble friends. If there is to be a clash or uncertainty as regards the way this is accepted, and if neither "Assembly" nor "Convention" can meet the need, then we must think of something else and "Moot" is a word that, in terms of developing into full Parliamentary Government—if I may have the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—is the very basis of it all. The dictionary also says: In the Anglo-Saxon moots may be discerned the first germs of popular government". Therefore, if this is only at the very beginning of what the people who want separation have in mind—and indeed they have—it could well be that "Moot" would be a better title to give to it, with the historical background and the knowledge that it can eventually grow into a full Parliament. Therefore, it may very well meet what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has in mind too. I noted also that in the dictionary "Moot hall" is described as: The hall in which the assizes are held at Carlisle, still goes by the name of the mote or moot-hall". The name of Moot may well meet all of the points made by noble Lords who have already spoken, and at any rate Carlisle has some sort of Scottish influence to find that it might meet that need. It could well be that when we reach the Report stage we shall find that the Moot of Scotland may be more acceptable and more truthful than the Assembly of Scotland or the Convention of Scotland. Whether your Lordships think it is a good or a bad idea, at any rate it is a suggestion that comes from England on a Bill that certainly affects England as much as it affects Scotland.


If the noble Lord is prepared to go as far as to impose the Anglo-Saxon name "Moot" on the poor Scots, would he not go one further and impose the Viking name and call the thing "a Thing"?


Perhaps that is an alternative that the noble Lord will put up when he comes to speak.


May I put one point? The noble Lord mentioned the American Convention and forgot to mention the National Convention which ruled as a Parliamentary Government for less than five years, was responsible for the execution of the King, the Queen, the whole of the Girondins and many prominent members of the Convention, and the end of Parliamentary Government, and the ultimate restoration of dictatorship and establishment of Empire.


May I remind the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that in modern usage the word "moot" means a mock trial?

3.33 p.m.


It is quite obvious that your Lordships are full of bright ideas and bright thoughts, and as this is the first Amendment on the first clause of the Bill it augers well for the future. I am sure we can make amusing and entertaining and, I have no doubt, highly constructive suggestions. I have not got any alternative name which I want to put forward, but I want to support those people who are against calling this meeting place an Assembly. As the wife of the Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly, I spent two years of my life, 1956 and 1957, in the Palace of Holyrood House taking part in the General Assembly. The Assembly was always alluded to as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and nobody ever thought of anything else.

When I first heard that the suggestion was to be taken quite seriously I wondered who would protest most hotly because I thought the suggestion was quite wrong. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is wrong when he says that this has become an accustomed word. What is accustomed in Scotland is the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which meets in May. It is to meet this year in May, and the Lord High Commissioner, the very distinguished Member for Kilmarnock, was Secretary of State for Scotland for many years. I think it would be the greatest possible error of judgment and would cause muddle in the minds of the people of Scotland if this suggested meeting place were called an Assembly. I use the word "if" because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that this is all still somewhat speculative, and if we do have this meeting place it should not be called the General Assembly. I should be quite happy to call it a Convention. I should also be quite happy to ask the Government to think again, to see what suggestions they can make. Failing all else, I would support the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in calling this meeting a Convention and not an Assembly.

The Earl of DUNDEE

May I briefly express agreement with my noble friend Lord Lauderdale in what he said a few minutes ago. He told us that in his view the designation "Assembly" was rather like the kind of thing that an Englishman would call a Scottish legislative body. I should like to be a little more precise. I think it is more like the sort of thing an English civil servant would call a Scottish legislative body. I think the religious body, which at present holds that title, would be deeply hurt and exasperated by it. Like my noble friend Lord Lauderdale, I am not a member of the Presbyterian Church. My family, like his, has always been Episcopalian, but all of us in Scotland have a deep love and regard for the Church which is the Established Church. We all hope that some day, perhaps, Christian reunion will be reached all over the world. Meanwhile it would certainly cause them a great deal of pain and annoyance if this name were taken.

As for the alternative, a great many suggestions could be made. The word "Convention" at least has the advantage that the old Scottish Parliament was usually referred to as the Convention. According to our ideas it was rather a distinguished and unusual body. All the commoners, those from the counties and burghs, sat in it, and in Episcopal times all the bishops and all the Peers from every part of Scotland sat with them as one legislative chamber. This is not in accordance with our modern democratic ideas, and I am not suggesting that we should try to resuscitate this kind of legislative assembly in Scotland. I think we should find the term "Convention" a perfectly good one. I am not trying to insist on it. It has not only been applied in historical times to the Scottish Parliament hut has also been used by historians and by poets like Sir Walter Scott, who wrote To the Lords of Convention 'twas Claver'se spoke: 'Rouse, Gentlemen all, it's high time you awoke'". I think it is high time that we tried to find some more suitable title than "Assembly" for what we are now proposing to set up.

Viscount THURSO

It is difficult to find a word for this body which we are to set up which is not either archaic and ridiculous, inappropriate or already in use. I think we should discard instantly the archaic and those titles which are not going to be readily understood in a modern context. As an Elder of the Church of Scotland I shall have no difficulty in telling the difference between the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Assembly. I shall be able to tell the difference between the things that are Caesar's and the things that are God's. That is all one needs to know. I do not think it is in any way an insult to the Kirk.

"Assembly" is a word which people understand. It is a word that is in common use today, which has a modern meaning; it is not a word like "Convention", which has an archaic ring to it. If one goes past "Convention" and comes to things like "Estates","Moots" and "Things", one goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. So I think we must come back to the really possible alternatives: "Convention", to me is slightly archaic and smacks of the Convention of Royal Burghs, a body that I knew, and which has passed its mantle on to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Then there is the possible use of the word "Parliament", which I accept that this body will not be in a true sense and therefore should not be used, and the word "Assembly", which has already begun to be used by people throughout Scotland and by the Press in everyday discussion. I think we should stick to the word "Assembly".

3.40 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I think it is interesting to note that basically this is a Bill which nobody wants, yet the first thing we discuss is the name by which this body in Scotland, which nobody really approves of, should be called. To me this is a slight indictment. While my noble friend Lord Lauderdale was speaking—and I say this in no unfair sense to him—I whipped out to consult the Shorter English Dictionary in the Library in order to discover what other Assemblies there have been. The Achaean Assemblies were summoned by trumpets—did that insult the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland? Mirabeau thundered to his French Assembly—did that insult the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland? There was an Assembly in Pennsylvania—did that insult the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland? What it is called is surely a matter of relative unimportance. It is a bad Bill, with a bad Assembly with bad powers. What it is called does not matter—I shall not say "one hoot", I will say "one moot."


Although I am not a member of either Kirk or Church, I support this Amendment. There is much validity in the criticism of the proposals directed by the noble Earl but I shall not elaborate upon them. However, perhaps the Minister who is to reply will tell your Lordships whether confrontation took place with the Church on this matter. One would have thought that before calling this meeting place an Assembly at least for a Scotsman with any knowledge of his country's history this would have been an obviously necessary precaution. Therefore, could the Minister tell us whether consultation with the Church took place and, if so, what was the outcome? If not, perhaps he could say why not. After all, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in effect asked: What is in a name? What does it matter? There is no point in causing offence unnecessarily. I support the Amendment.


I should like briefly to endorse the point which my noble friend Lord Selkirk has raised, that there could be the danger of serious ambiguity and mistaken identity between the two Assemblies, as they would be known in Scotland. As noble Lords have already said, there is the Assembly in Scotland now. It is not an assembly; to most people it is the Assembly. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will not make any mistakes about the differences between the two bodies when he attends one and possibly reads about the other. But when people in Scotland in ordinary conversation are talking about the Assembly, mistakes will be made because there is already the Assembly.

For those who live South of the Border may I say that it is a body which comprises many laymen as well as ministers of the clergy; much has been said about it and the role it plays in life in Scotland. I would only say that on the first occasion when I addressed that august body I felt a certain nervousness—even more than that which I experienced on the occasions when, with all respect, I made maiden speeches in both Houses of Parliament.

Those who have represented the Assembly have certainly made statements saying that they hope that, if the new body is to be established under a Bill of this kind, it will not be called an Assembly. I should also like to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, in asking the Minister who will reply what representations have been received. I understand that about two or three years ago, when devolution was being discussed and considered in Government circles, the General Assembly asked that the word "Assembly" should not be used. The word "Convention" has a Scottish history. However, I understand the difficulty which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale in a powerful speech, that it was taken two or three years ago by the new body which represents all the Scottish local authorities in Scotland—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, COSLA for short.

If the word "Convention" is accepted as being a better word in Scotland in order to avoid confusion with the Assembly which already exists, then I would agree with my noble friend that COSLA could be asked to become ASLA—the Association of Scottish Local Authorities. It was made up of the four bodies which represented the four types of local authorities; they were associations and only one was a Convention.

I ask the Government seriously to consider this question of confusion and also the possibility of using another expression. With no commitment to it, but merely for consideration along with others that the Government may have received, I put forward the term "Scottish Congress". In ordinary discussion in Scotland I do not think that that would be confused with the United States Congress; nor do I think that it would be confused with the Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, because they are always known respectively as the TUC and the STUC. However, it is important that we have some term which cannot be confused with the Assembly that already exists and which has existed for many years. I think that many of its members would be offended if the word "Assembly" is duplicated in the Bill.


Could not a compromise be reached by having a double-barrelled name, such as "Representative Assembly", and not simply "Assembly"? That would impart the idea of Parliamentary representation, and so on.

3.47 p.m.


I rise to support this Amendment. On behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, I should like to say how sorry he is that he cannot be present, but he is temporarily indisposed. However, he wholeheartedly supports the Amendment.

A great deal of heat can be engendered in our debates on the Bill. I fear that if this heat is unduly engendered by us here—and this is the House in which it should not be engendered—the reaction will be strong in Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, asked: Who wants this Bill? At least 75 per cent. of the voters of Scotland want it. That is the trouble.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he really imagine that anything like 75 per cent. of the people of Scotland have studied the provisions of the Scotland Bill?


If pronouncements are made like those of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, then I can assure noble Lords that there is no doubt that more than 75 per cent. will vote "Yes" in the referendum. It is undoubted that opinion in Scotland has hardened in favour of the Bill as discussions have taken place in England.

The suggestion of "Convention" is probably the most respectable one, if not the only one. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, has suggested "Representative Assembly". A "House of Representatives" would be a very good suggestion. So far as I can make out, the only confusion arising over the word "House" would be in connection with a college at Oxford, and they are far enough apart. "Convention" is an ancient Scottish word, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hale, pointed out, it has been important in the history of England. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said that a Convention could carry nothing through. It can carry through the execution of a king; it can carry through the restoration of a king; and it can carry through the abdication of a king. The English Conventions have managed to do that in the past; so they did have powers, and there is no reason why they should not have powers in the future.

But the essence of the historical use of the word "convention" is that it is subordinate to the full Parliament. That is how it has been used in Scotland. Therefore, it is not at all an unsuitable word to use in this instance. In the Oxford English Dictionary "Convention" is defined as, an assembly or gathering of persons for some common object; especially a formal assembly met for deliberation or legislation on important matters". To my mind, that goes a long way to justify our use of the word "Convention".

One noble Lord wanted to know what the Church of Scotland had done in representation. My noble friend Lord Lauderdale has already referred to this. In recent years, the General Assembly has on more than one occasion passed a Resolution—they call it a Deliverance—to the effect that they seek a form of devolution within the framework of the United Kingdom. The precise Motion that was carried at the General Assembly of 1976, to which my noble friend Lord Lauderdale referred and which was formally sent to the Scottish Office—so it cannot possibly be said that those who were drafting this Bill were unaware of the opinion of the Church of Scotland—is in the following words: The General Assembly, recognising the historic identification in Scotland of the word 'Assembly' with the Supreme Court of the Church, urge that the proposed new legislative body be known not as the Scottish Assembly but as the Scots Parliament or by some such other suitable name". That is what is behind us in moving this Amendment. It is an historic name and the Church of Scotland wants it.


In passing, may I say that I am not as agile as my noble friend Lord Wilson of Langside, and I was obviously more taken by surprise than he was by what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said. But I trust that, as this debate continues, no noble Lord, or anybody else, will start making assumptions about what the people of Scotland think. We simply do not know that, nor shall we know that until the referendum happens.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Will the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, elucidate his remark that discussion in England has hardened Scottish opinion? Is he saying, or imply- ing, by that that the English, who make up the vast majority of the United Kingdom, have no right to discuss this Bill and no interest in this Bill, and that it is only something to do with the Scots? I think that that is an unsound doctrine, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord whom I call my friend.


In reply to the noble Earl, I would say that we in Scotland certainly appreciate that this is a United Kingdom matter. You can get that from the Deliverance of the General Assembly, which I quoted. They sought a form of devolution within the framework of the United Kingdom. That goes for us all in Scotland, but we want devolution to give us a greater freedom in attending to our own matters. I would particularly recommend him, if he did not hear it, to read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on Second Reading.

3.53 p.m.


I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I ignore all the irrelevancies which have crept into the discussion of this quite short and limited Amendment. I have never doubted that it was perfectly possible to make out a respectable and stateable case for the name "Convention" or for some other name. But all these names were considered by Ministers. This name was not inserted into the Bill by an Englishman, or a committee of Englishmen. It derived from one of the most distinguished Scotsmen of his generation, who is sitting in this House and moved ruefully when the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, spoke: namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. It was considered by Ministers, including a number of Scots Ministers—for instance, the Lord Advocate and myself and the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. William Ross—and the decision was taken that it was the most suitable name to describe the concept of a legislative and deliberative body.

It is significant that in another place no one sought to remove this name and replace it with the name, "Convention", and no one suggested that there would be confusion with the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I need not refer to dictionary definitions. Let me try to answer briefly the points that have been made by those who have spoken in this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, said that there was an attempt to steal the prestige of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. That is nonsense. It was answered clearly by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who spoke as an Elder of the Church. I would have said, although it is a matter of one's own impression, that people in Scotland refer to that body which meets in May in Edinburgh each year as the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It is known as the General Assembly, and it is so described. There is no possibility of confusion between that body and the body provided for in this Bill.

Secondly, let me inform noble Lords who do not know that, at the very time when that body meets, there are other General Assemblies of other Churches in Scotland meeting both in Edinburgh and in the North of Scotland, and, in order to distinguish the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from the other General Assemblies, they are described by reference to the name of the particular Church. I should have thought that the argument about the possibility of confusion is one which was not acceptable.

If there is to be confusion, then the word "Convention" itself could, as has been suggested in the debate, give rise to confusion because of the existence of a body now well-known in Scotland and which has been referred to a number of times—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.


Will the noble Lord allow me to refer to his allusion to the fact that other Churches use the words "General Assembly" for their annual meeting? That derives from the fact that they all left the Church of Scotland, and therefore took their form of service and the name of their organisation from the Church of Scotland, and as they come back into the Church of Scotland they are quite at home in the matter. It is for historical reasons that those Churches should use the words "General Assembly."


I entirely agree with that, but it is entirely beside the point. The point is that you do not confuse the one with the other; you call them by their respective names. This body meeting once a year in May in Edinburgh will not be confused with the Assembly to be set up under this Statute.


If there would be no confusion between those two, then equally there would be no confusion between the Convention of Local Authorities and the Convention. The argument cuts both ways.


What I think I said was that, if there is the possibility of confusion, it is just as great with "Convention" as with "Assembly." I think the confusion argument is really a shadow argument. It has no real substance.

Reference has been made to historical matters going back as far as the 13th century. I do not want to follow into the realms of history noble Lords who have the advantage of me in these matters. The historical precedents are perhaps not too inviting, but I can assure noble Lords who have not yet studied the devolved matters that the execution of Kings is not a matter to be devolved under the Bill.

The strongest argument—and I think it was foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—is that the people of Scotland, whether they are for devolution or against it and whether they want an Assembly or do not want one, would think that we in this House had gone mad if we were suddenly to abandon, after years of public debate about an Assembly and after almost as many years of prolonged Parliamentary debate, the word which is central to the whole debate for reasons which I think would be seen to he flimsy and unconvincing. I suggest that the ordinary public in Scotland would feel that they had been robbed of a term and a concept that they had come to understand. They might even feel that they had been robbed of some of the substance as well.

I remind your Lordships that there was proposed under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act a Northern Ireland Assembly. There is proposed under the Wales Bill an Assembly for Wales. The arguments deployed today in relation to Scotland would not apply to the Wales Bill. Are we then to find that Wales is to have an Assembly and Scotland not to have a body called the Assembly? I urge upon the Committee that the public would simply not understand what had been done today if we were foolish enough to vote for this Amendment. I urge my noble friends and others to reject this Amendment.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him if he will answer the question which he was asked by one noble Lord as to what was the view of the Church of Scotland?


I am obliged to the noble Baroness for reminding me of that. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in substance, answered it. What happened was that the Church of Scotland made a submission in relation to the November 1975 White Paper. Subsequently the Church and Nation Committee of the General Assembly suggested alternative titles and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, referred to one of them. Scottish "Parliament" was rejected, for reasons which, I think, will be understood. Ministers—when I say "Ministers" I mean Ministers of the Government—met representatives of the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland on no fewer than three occasions. At the last meeting they suggested either the name "Convention" or "Legislative Assembly". So there was full consultation. Their views were taken into account, plus other views. For the reasons which I have outlined, the Government have decided—and I urge the House to accept—that the proper name here is "Assembly" and that the possibility of confusion is one which does not exist.


I wonder whether I could just ask the noble and learned Lord this question: I came here with an open mind on the subject. I should have thought that the one thing that is quite clear is that there is confusion. There is confusion over the word, "Assembly". There would appear to be confusion over the word, "Convention". The noble Lord said that it was a shadow argument. I would submit, with the greatest respect, from what has been said so far, that it is not a shadow argument. There is substance in the fact there would be confusion.

I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider the word, "Legislature". This does not detract from the word, "Assembly". An assembly is after all a gathering of people. "Legislature" might be a rather more substantial word. It might appeal more to the Scots. At least it is in no way confusing. It describes the work that would be done. Would the noble Lord be kind enough to consider that?


I have already indicated that the Government gave consideration to a number of names. We selected the name which commended itself to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and those who assisted him in preparing the report. I think that the difficulties that would arise for the people of Scotland if we now abandon the name, "Assembly", would arise with whatever other name it was thought fit to put in its place. I cannot elaborate this argument. The point is relatively minor. I would submit that, for the reasons that I have given, your Lordships should reject this Amendment.


Before my noble friend sits down, may I ask whether he does not think that some of the confusion has arisen because noble Lords, and he himself, have referred to the word "Assembly"? Is it not a fact that the Church body is the General Assembly and that according to Clause 1 of the Bill the Parliamentary body is to be called the "Scottish Assembly"? We are not referring to the "Assembly", but to "General Assembly" and "Scottish Assembly". Does he not think that the Scottish people would take great pride in pronouncing that word "Scottish" when they refer to a Parliamentary institution?


I am indebted to my noble friend. If one looks at Clause 1(1), one sees that that is exactly correct. The body will be known as the "Scottish Assembly" and the Church body, which has been referred to by those who support the Amendment, will be referred to as the "General Assembly".

4.4. p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I must say that the speech to which we have just listened seems to me to bode ill for this Committee stage. It was totally uncompromising and totally unconvincing. If I may say so, the people of Scotland honestly do not know what we have been talking about in Parliament. They have no idea what has been going on. I cannot agree for one moment with the noble Lord. Lord Mackie of Benshie, in saying that the people know or accept what has been decided.

The noble Lord said there was no confusion. When I first made my remarks. I made no remark about insulting anybody. I have actually in my own way, consulted the Church of Scotland, quite informally. I do not pretend otherwise. I am clear about the views of the people concerned, who are highly representative of every parish in Scotland, in that they do not like this word. The Government said "What do they matter? They do not matter that much. We have made up our minds. We are going to push it through at any price". This is not a very happy way to start.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. We want something that the people of Scotland would like, and what is suitable to them. What I thought of was the confusion. It is no good the noble Lord talking about the General Assembly, on the one hand, or the Scottish Assembly, on the other. Everybody in Scotland knows that it is "the Assembly". Everyone knows that the other will be "the Assembly". We do not talk about the Scottish Assembly when we are in Scotland: it is "the Assembly". It is quite wrong to say that there will be no confusion.

May I put a question straight to the noble Lord? Has the noble Lord not heard the statements by the Free Church of Scotland which have been confused with those of the Church of Scotland, to the detriment of the Church of Scotland? Everyone knows that these events take place from time to time: very vigorous statements which the Church of Scotland would not express and which many of us in Scotland rather regret having been made. This confusion is frequently taking place, very unfortunately. The noble Lord said that Scotland would be robbed. Scotland is not aware of being robbed of anything yet. The great majority just do not know what on earth is happening. When it is said that we cannot use this word because Wales does not like it, this shows the thorough emptiness of the arguments which the noble Lord has used this afternoon.

I should like to have left the Government to think. We all hope that the Government can think. We all very much hope that the Government's mind is not utterly lost to every consideration. I am not pretending that this is vital. I moved this Amendment for the convenience of the people of Scotland. There is nothing political about this. It is just what would be helpful and, as such, I moved it.

May I ask the Government whether there is the remotest chance that they would think for a moment, consult the people in Scotland, and find a little of what has been done?

I do not know whether the noble Lord is right about the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. I am bound to say that I thought he said that he would leave it to the Assembly to choose its own name. I may be wrong. I shall withdraw readily if I am wrong about that.


That is more or less correct, as I recollect it.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I regret to say that I have not verified the point. I really do not think that one single argument advanced by the noble and learned Lord carries one pound weight. I am sorry to put it this way. That is in fact, the case. I do not want to start at this Committee stage, when we have so much to do, with a Division against the Government. I would so much rather that the noble Lord would say that he would give a little consideration to those points, which I think really are worth while.

Noble Lords have expressed their views. I thank them for doing so. It is the convenience of the people of Scotland that I have in mind. I believe this is a very good point. May I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would reconsider the matter?


Before the noble and learned Lord comes to his conclusion, may I ask him this question? Have the people of Scotland more concern about the name than about the powers that are going to be vested in this body? Surely this is where the confusion will come. Is the noble and learned Lord's capacity for logic not failing a bit when he makes such a hullabaloo about the name, when we all know in our hearts that what the people of Scotland will be quarrelling and wondering about is not the name so much as what powers will be vested in this important body?

The Earl of SELKIRK

I agree with the noble Lord. I would have been hopelessly irrelevant in speaking to this Amendment if I had started talking about powers. This happens to be the first Amendment. I thought that I was putting a simple, straightforward proposition. I thought that the Government would be reasonable and at least think about it. As the noble Lord said, this is a matter for the convenience of the people of Scotland. I think it is a perfectly real point. If the Government will say that they will give the matter a moment's consideration, I shall willingly withdraw the Amendment. I would rather not go to a Division at this early stage.


I regret if the noble Earl thought that my approach to this matter was uncompromising. What I said on Second Reading—and I repeat—was that the Government would try at the earliest possible stage to give a clear indication of what their view was, so that the House would not be misled into thinking that matters would be reconsidered when they were unlikely to be reconsidered, and therefore they could dispose of them on the first occasion instead of returning to them on Report or Third Reading. That was why I made my position plain.

Secondly, I regret the suggestion that the Government should give a little consideration to this matter; the Government have given immense consideration to it. I outlined the fact that we had three meetings with representatives of the Church of Scotland and I mentioned that all the alternatives were discussed. I cannot say, after this word has become central to the whole debate about devolution, that the Government are going to offer to depart from it.


What the noble and learned Lord said was rather serious. He repeated what he said on Second Reading; namely, that the Government would let your Lordships know their view at the earliest opportunity—and that slightly raised the idea in some of our minds that perhaps the Government had a closed mind. I hope the Government do not have a closed mind because if we are to discuss this Bill, 60-odd clauses of which were not discussed at all in another place, and the Government are going to have a closed mind to all suggestions, that bodes ill from the start. My noble friend Lord Selkirk put down this Amendment—which he described as a totally non-Party non-political one—as a constructive idea to see whether it was possible to improve the Bill. The noble and learned Lord may think it would not improve the Bill, whereas many who have spoken have thought that there would be confusion if the wording were left as it is.

I hope the noble and learned Lord will not be quite so inflexible as to say, "We have made up our minds. We have no intention of considering the matter at all, irrespective of what anybody says". To say that would not bode well, not on the first Amendment to a complicated and difficult Bill. If this is something about which the Government intend to be inflexible, one is bound to say, "Heaven help us when we come to some of the more detailed provisions." Even now, to avoid any confrontation between people at this stage, at the very beginning of the Committee stage, I hope the noble and learned Lord will be kind enough to say, "I do not think we can change our minds, but we will certainly consider the arguments that have been put forward". Surely the noble and learned Lord will not say that he will not even consider them. Otherwise the Committee stage will be wasted and we shall end up by being on what we do not want to be; namely, on confrontation courses which are unnecessary.

The Earl of SELKIRK

To give the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey a moment to think about his reply, perhaps I might read a passage from the Kilbrandon Report which is directly relevant to this issue: It would be for the Scottish and Welsh people to decide on the names for their assemblies. The term 'convention' seems to find some favour in Scotland, and 'senate' has been suggested for Wales". Those are the words of the Kilbrandon Report which the noble and learned Lord himself called in aid.


I was asked whether the Government would give consideration to these arguments. The position is that the Government have already given consideration to all these arguments. There is no argument which I have heard today that has not already been considered by Ministers.


Is the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, aware that he has used an argument that does not make sense? He said there was no confusion between "Assembly" and "General Assembly" and then he said there was confusion between "Convention" and "Convention of Local Authorities". Those two arguments do not go together. Surely he will look at his own logic if he will not look at ours.


In Parliamentary terms, surely the noble and learned Lord sees the difficulty in which he is putting noble Lords. He said the Government could not consider altering this because detailed thought had already been given to it. I trust that detailed thought has been given to the whole of the Bill by the Government and that no part of it has come before us without detailed thought having been given to it. If the noble and learned Lord's argument is that, because prior detailed thought has been given to it, there can be no element of give at any point, then I believe the term "collision course" is very well phrased.

The Earl of ONSLOW

When I began to listen to this argument I thought the whole thing was fairly irrelevant, but in view of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said, if this Amendment is forced to a Division I should now be happy to vote for the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, not because I believe there is any great force in their argument but because I believe there is a great deal of unattractiveness—I say this with great respect to Lord McCluskey—in his attitude, which is, "I will not give at all under any circumstances. I will not listen. It has been disposed of and has all been handed down by diktat". We may be an unrepresentative Chamber and we may not have a great deal of force behind us, but I hope we are entitled to slightly greater respect than Lord McCluskey appears to be giving us.

The Earl of PERTH

I feel, with many other noble Lords, that this is not a matter of major importance. However, I should have thought it was open to the Government to say what they have been asked to say, taking into account the fact that there certainly have been arguments advanced today which must be new to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and his colleagues. If that is the case, then to do what has been requested by several noble Lords in the most conciliatory spirit would be well taken by one and all. If, on Report, the Government were to say, "We have considered the arguments which noble Lords have adduced but we stay where we are", that I would understand. But to say now, "We have already considered all the arguments", when they have been advanced by noble Lords in all parts of the Committee cannot be right and I therefore hope the noble and learned Lord will think again.


If the noble Earl will withdraw his Amendment, I will bring the arguments of the Committee freshly to the attention of Ministers in order that the next time I appear before your Lordships in relation to this matter it might be quite clear what the Government's view is in the light of all the representations and the feeling of the Committee.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that comment, and in all the circumstances I have much pleasure in begging leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.17 p.m.

Lord KILBRANDON moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("the members of which shall be elected by that system of proportional voting specified under this Act".)

The noble and learned Lord said: Looking at the history of the progress of the Bill and making such estimates as one can of its future prospects, I believe the quality in what I have to say that would be most acceptable to your Lordships would be brevity. I certainly have no intention whatever of delivering a debating society address on the advantages or disadvantages of proportional representation. Noble Lords are already very well acquainted with what is to be said both for and against it and I am particularly anxious to avoid generalities. I therefore emphasise that the proposals in this Amendment, and of course in the consequential Amendments which follow it, are deemed by their supporters, who I understand are drawn from all political Parties, to be appropriate to the only elected body in which they are intended to apply; namely, the Scottish Assembly, if I may give it that name in the meantime.

Nothing I say is intended to be construed more widely than that. I do not wish it to be inferred that in my opinion these proposals or any other system of proportional representation could with advantage be introduced into the system of elected Members to the United Kingdom Parliament. Their suitability to Scotland alone is the case I have to make, and so I would not hesitate to solicit the support of noble Lords who are opposed to any such reforms at Westminster. There is no question here of the thin end of the wedge. If the Committee is satisfied that the situation in Scotland calls for proportional representation, that will provide no analogy whatever for its introduction elsewhere.

I have no doubt that it was the classic argument for proportional representation that influenced the Royal Commission on the Constitution in recommending its adoption, and I remember that this was not only the view taken by the majority but that my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt, in his Minority Report, made strong representations in the same sense. The problem which PR seeks to solve being a continuous occupation of the seats of power by a Party, which equally continuously polls a minority of the votes cast for it at a General Election; then, apart from this being, as it were, an arithmetical negation of democracy, the frustrated victims may, as the noble Lord put it in his Minority Report, be forced to take to the streets in often violent direct action, instead of seeking to achieve their ends through peaceful constitutional processes.

The situation, as it was seen by the Royal Commission, and as it was impressed upon us by numerous witnesses, was the commanding position of the Labour Party. Indeed, there were witnesses who, rather poor-spiritedly, as I must say I thought, regarded this fact as an insuperable objection to the whole idea of the Assembly, whatever the virtues of devolution might be. I would not, I think, now he prepared today to certify that the danger arises from the same Party, but if it is from any other Party the problem is exactly the same.

There is nothing more boring, or more difficult to follow, than viva voce statistics, but I must use a very few in illustration of the fortunes of the political Parties as they were displayed to the Royal Commission, and in justification of the assertion, which is the rationale of the Amendments, that the dangers, as they appeared then, are still threatening today. Let me take first 1959, the year of a notable Conservative victory. Over the whole electorate the Conservatives, with 49.4 per cent. of the poll, gained 58 per cent. of the seats. I know that this is the kind of evidence which is used for the general support of proportional representation, but that is not what I am using it for. am using it for the purpose of comparing with Scotland. There, as perhaps tradition would have led one to expect, the Conservatives attained only 47 per cent. of the poll, which gave them 44 per cent. of the seats. Labour, on the other hand, also attained 47 per cent. of the poll, but that was enough to give them 53 per cent. of the seats. So, even in a year of British victory, the poll level in Scotland left the Conservatives far behind in representatives. The Liberals, of course, with 4 per cent. of the poll and 1 4 per cent. of the seats, were used even worse. I should say that I am giving very round figures for my purposes.

But the state of Parties in Scotland has changed very much since 1959, and I should like to look at what happened at the last General Election. There were—and I think one must take it that there still are—three, not two, powerful Parties, and the Liberal Party did over twice as well as it did in 1959. It seems, however, strangely, that the splitting of the available votes between four Parties makes the result less, not more, equitable. The Labour Party percentage of votes, as compared with 1959, was down from 47 per cent. to 36 per cent., yet the seats obtained went up from 53 per cent. to 58 per cent.

The Conservative Party, however, which suffered a fall in votes from 47 to 24½per cent., experienced an almost exactly proportionate fall in seats from 44 to 22½ per cent. The Liberals again were far out of proportion, with 8½ per cent. of the votes, but only 4 per cent. of the seats. But the experience of the Scottish National Party was the most remarkable, with 30½ per cent. of the votes compared with Labour's 36 per cent., and 15½ per cent. of the seats compared with Labour's 58.

Of course, these figures would not be surprising to advocates of proportional representation who are, what I might call, connoisseurs of electoral anomalies, but may I again emphasise that I am not using them to support a general case, but a particular case. In the state of Parties in Scotland, which is entirely different from that of the Parties in the United Kingdom, and in the state of emotional unrest, which is almost certain to be found at any juncture of constitutional change, there is, I am sure, a highly special case for ensuring that, whatever may be the composition of the new Assembly, it is based, so far as that can be provided for, upon the consensus of a majority of the electorate. Under our standard electoral system that would be absolutely impossible.

The case is, I believe, special in another sense. I should have thought that, applying the principles which must have been held to have justified the introduction of the Bill, it is for the Assembly to determine what its own system of election shall be. I think that it is plainly right that proportional representation be introduced at the earliest possible moment, so that the decision to keep it, to abandon it, or to alter the method of it, may be made by an Assembly in which the voting power reflects the will of a majority of the electors.

Perhaps I ought to mention in passing that PR is not a total stranger to Scotland. From 1919 to 1930 there were, in Scotland, education authorities which were independent of the local authorities, and their members were elected by a system of the single transferable vote. When I was an undergraduate, politics being one of the subjects for my degree, I contrived to get employment at one such election as a polling clerk, so I have some personal recollection of the experiment. It ceased because the ad hoc education authorities ceased themselves, but I cannot remember that there was anything unworkable or undesirable about it.

Your Lordships will have observed that the STV, as it is called, is not the system which these Amendments provide for, although it was the system recommended by the Royal Commission. There are many different formulae for electoral reform, each one of which has defects which are emphasised by the advocates of every other system. If these defects were more grievous than those observable in the first-past-the-post system, the present Amendment would not have seen the light of day; but they are not.

It is, I think, not necessary that I should say anything about the detailed operation of what is called the additional Member system, which is the system proposed. The principle is this: voters elect constituency Members in just the same way as they do now. This accounts for two-thirds of the membership of the Assembly, but they also indicate which Party they vote for, and these votes are used in order to calculate the number of additional members to be allotted to each Party in order to bring, so far as one can, the Party strengths in the Assembly into line with the Party strengths in the constituencies. This accounts for one-third of the membership.

I am sure that there are noble Lords who have the working of the system at their fingertips, and that they will deal with it and trace its parentage. There are only two general observations I should like to make. First, the criticism that certain members of the Assembly have been appointed and not elected, I believe to be invalid where, as here, a unicameral legislature is concerned. Secondly, this is the only system which can be brought into immediate operation. No changes in constituency boundaries are called for. Speaking as an ex-chairman of the Boundary Commission for Scotland, I can assure the Committee that that would be a most formidable and time-consuming business. Those are the reasons, put as briefly as I can, why I recommend that the members of the Assembly should be elected by proportional representation, and I beg to move accordingly.

4.30 p.m.


I feel it a privilege to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, on this Amendment. As the very distinguished Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, which toiled for so long and produced such a massive and powerful report, his words are bound to carry great weight with your Lordships. As he said, what we are discussing on this Amendment is whether or not we should have a system of proportional representation; and it is an all-Party Amendment. What I shall attempt to do first is to say why I regard the principle of adopting a proportional representation system of the kind proposed in this series of Amendments—the additional Member system—as right for the Scottish Assembly, and then briefly to outline the proposals in perhaps a little more detail than the noble and learned Lord has so concisely and precisely given. I shall do that because I feel it would be wrong to ask your Lordships to consider an Amendment of this character without some idea of how the additional Member system would work. When we come to Schedule 1, we can discuss the system in more detail. In fact, we shall be able to do that when we come to Amendment No. 33, with which are linked the new Parts V, VI and VII of Schedule 1.

An election is thought of by most people in this island as a series of local races held all over the country, all starting and finishing on the same day. What more natural, then, than that the winners of the various races in their own localities should each be awarded the prize of a seat in Parliament as the representative of his constituency! The Amendment does not change that at all: but, if nothing more than that is done, the outcome for the voters and for the Parties for which they vote can be, and very often is, to say the least of it, unrepresentative, as the noble and learned Lord has already demonstrated. Does this matter? Over the years, the system has worked, has it not? Has it not resulted, at least until recently, in a majority in the Lower House on which a Government could rely? And could it not do so again in the future so long as there are two dominant Parties competing for the spoils of office?

However, that is not the situation—the scenario, to use the modern jargon—that we are discussing in this Bill. Wishful thinkers may imagine and hope that it is, but the signs are that there will be at least three Parties in the running; and there is at least one more, possibly two, which is likely to put up candidates in all or most of the constituencies in the first election. On a first-past-the-post system, we might get an even more rather than a less unrepresentative result.

It is of course true that, in the past, the British House of Commons has created in its own image a host of legislatures all over the world, though many have not maintained that image for long; but most of these legislatures have, with the principal exceptions of the Provincial and State Governments in Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia, been designed to exercise sovereignty. That is not so in the case of the Scottish Assembly: we are creating an Assembly of a quite different character, with restricted legislative powers and without a vestige of sovereignty. Surely we ought to devise a system which is apt for the functions it will have to perform—and this was the point that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was making in the debate on the previous Amendment. There can be no excuse for devising a system which is palpably unfair in these circumstances.

In considering which electoral system will be most suitable for Regional Assemblies, including a Scottish Assembly, the Royal Commission, in paragraphs 778 to 788 of its report, looked at many possible systems and picked out three for special consideration, all of which are in use in some part of the world: first, there was the relative majority or first-past-thepost system; secondly, there was the alternative vote system; and, thirdly, there was the single transferable vote system. The Commission then came down in favour of the single transferable vote system, mainly on the grounds that it regarded ensuring the proper representation of minorities in Regional Assemblies as an overriding requirement. Of the three, STV is the only one which aims to give Parties representation in proportion to votes received. They made it crystal clear that they were not talking about elections to the United Kingdom Parliament, and that the objection to STV that it tends not to give any one party a majority in the Assembly would be less substantial as the government was to be concerned with decisions on domestic policy only…". However, the disadvantage of STV is that it needs large multi-Member constituencies. That would seem to run counter both to the aim of bringing representation closer to the people and to the practice in Great Britain in the past 100 years or so. It is partly for that reason and partly because of the convenience of having the same constituencies for the Assembly as for the United Kingdom Parliament that we are putting forward this compromise in the form of the additional Member system, which builds on the existing system.

The additional Member system is based on the system preferred by all but one member of the Hansard Society Commission on Electoral Reform, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Blake, who I am glad to see here today; it is a system which owes much to the West German system, and that system, in turn, owes much to our existing system. It resembles closely, but is not identical to, the Mackintosh-Rifkind Amendment which was debated and rejected in the Commons. Where it differs most is in the allocation of additional seats on a regional and not on an all-Scottish basis. This means that the additional Members will represent groups of constituencies. It is, so to say, a supplementary benefit to the existing system.

Now, if your Lordships will bear with me, I shall briefly outline the proposals in this series of Amendments. The Assembly would consist, as in the Bill, of around 150 Members, of whom 100 would be directly elected constituency Members, with 50 who would be added as Party Members. Initially, 42 of the existing 71 constituencies would elect one Member each and 28 would elect two each. This follows in the Amendment which we shall be considering under the name, curiously enough, of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The two components of the remaining constituency, Orkney and Shetland, would each elect one Member, as in the Bill. (Incidentally, I shall not be moving Amendment No. 3.)

The constituencies which elected two Members each would be those with more than 110 per cent. of the average electorate—that is in Amendment No. 11—and that figure is calculated with a view to producing the 100 constituency members. The 50 additional seats would be allocated on a regional basis—that is in Amendment No. 21—constituencies being grouped into eight regions, so that the total number of seats in each region for each Party which secured more than 5 per cent. of the total number of Party votes cast in Scotland would as nearly as possible correspond with the proportion of votes cast for that Party in that region. This so-called 5 per cent. threshold is designed to prevent a multiplicity of Parties in the Assembly; and this sort of system has certainly not created a multiplicity of Parties in the West German Chamber.

Amendment No. 33, which would add Parts V, VI and VII to Schedule 1, describes how the additional seats would be apportioned. This is based on the so-called "largest average" formula invented by d'Hondt. I am told that in West Germany the calculations are made by computer; but, given a regional basis for Scotland, with only between four and eight additional members in each region it involves a straightforward and not too lengthy piece of arithmetic which can be contained on one side of a foolscap sheet of paper. Even though some may find the calculation rather complicated, the actual voting from the point of view of the individual elector is very simple. All that is needed is for the elector to give two votes: one to the candidate of his choice—the constituency candidate—and another to the Party of his choice. Of course in a two-Member constituency he would give three votes—two constituency votes and one Party vote.

The voting paper would provide for this by setting out the constituency candidates on the left and the regional list or Party nominees on the right. The regional list would show, Party by Party, the names of the Party candidates from whom the additional Members would be drawn. Each Party would draw up its own regional list on whatever basis it chose, provided that the basis was democratic. Regulations made under the Bill could take care of that. Each Party list could not contain more names than there were additional seats to be filled in the region.

That is a summary of the system, and if it is not entirely clear to all members of the Committee at the moment I hope that noble Lords will find it clear when they come to read Hansard in the morning. 1 shall leave other noble Lords to speak about the distinctive contribution that additional Members could make to a Scottish Assembly. Such Members should have been carefully chosen perhaps as possessing distinction and experience of the kind that we are wont to observe and welcome in newly-created Peers. As the noble and learned Lord said, since the Scottish Assembly is to be a single Chamber, these additional Members might well add a valuable complementary element to the Assembly which would compensate in some measure for the lack of a second Chamber. That of course is speculation, though, I venture to think, not wild speculation. It may be of more immediate interest to your Lordships to know how this additional Member system would work out in practice.

Perhaps the most valuable indication is to take as a basis the October 1974 Election results in Scotland, as the noble and learned Lord has already done, but to take them from rather a different point of view. It is estimated that, had that Election been contested on the additional member system, the seats in the Assembly would have been distributed between the four main Parties as follows: with 24.7 per cent. of the votes, the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland would have had 24 per cent. of the seats (that is, 36 seats in a 150-member Assembly). The Labour Party, with 36.3 per cent. of the votes would have had 39 per cent. of the seats or 58 or 59 seats. The Liberals, with 8.3 per cent. of the votes and 7 per cent. of the seats, would have had 10 or 11 seats. The Scottish National Party, with 30.4 per cent. of the votes and 30 per cent. of the seats, would have had 45 seats, three times the number they would have had had they actually won in the last Election. No other Party would have attained the qualifying threshold of 5 per cent. of the votes. In the event, as my noble and learned friend said, the Labour Party candidates won nearly three-fifths of the seats with only just over 36 per cent. of the votes. That would be equivalent to some 87 per cent. of the seats in the Assembly of 150 Members.

So far, I have tried to deal with the principles and the mechanics of the additional Member system, but it would be wrong to evade the Party political issues. The Royal Commission made a perceptive and penetrating observation in paragraph 759 of its Report when it said: The system of Parliamentary Government now in operation at Westminster depends on the Opposition Party having a real prospect of achieving power. But in some regions that might not be so". It was for that reason that the Commission made its proposals. I would add this: one of the long-standing objections in Scotland to establishing a subordinate Parliament in Edinburgh has been that one Party would probably enjoy a permanent majority even though the majority might not always, or perhaps ever, be based on a majority of votes cast.

Few people would now deny that that Party might be not the Labour Party but the Scottish National Party. In the Second Reading debate of the Bill in this House there was not one speaker, I believe, who was in favour of the complete independence of Scotland. Yet by constant insistence on Scotland's grievances—real or imaginary—a Party might, on the first-past-the-post system, again and again win a more or less permanent majority, edging further and further towards separation and/or one-Party Government.

Even if the likelihood of such a situation is thought at present to be remote, it is a risk which ought not to be run. The present strength of nationalism in Scotland can, I believe, be exaggerated. So can the unity of the Scottish National Party's present followers in pursuit of the proclaimed objective of independence. But there is no more dangerous belief than "It can't happen here", not least where national sentiment is involved. We need go no further than Quebec Province to see what can happen when the true interests of a people are obscured and distorted by nationalism. There, at the last election, the Part Québecquois gained 70 per cent. of the seats with just over 40 per cent. of the votes, and has aroused grave fears for the future unity and prosperity of Canada.

Whatever advantages there may be in setting up some kind of political assembly in Scotland—and I believe that there are advantages—there are also enough risks not to warrant courting more. I believe that the first-past-the-post system would involve a foreseeable and totally unnecessary risk. As a political institution, the Scottish Assembly is to differ fundamentally from the United Kingdom Parliament. It lacks the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. It is to be only marginally concerned—environmentally, if you will—with trade and industry, and economics in general. It is to be elected for a fixed term of four years. These are but three of many reasons for having an entirely different electoral system—though not too different in its workings—to provide a membership apt for the Assembly's functions.

In conclusion, I would stress that the system proposed in this Amendment is simple from the point of view of the elector; it entails no constituency complications not already in the Bill and is demonstrably far fairer than the relative majority system, the first-past-the-post system. It would diminish considerably the risk of some Government, based on a majority of seats but a minority of the people of Scotland, riding roughshod over the wishes of the majority of electors.

4.50 p.m.


I should like to support the Amendment and the subsequent Amendments which are related to it. I should like to underline briefly the arguments in favour of that Amendment as I see them and as, indeed, they have been explained to us already this afternoon. I think it is of considerable significance that, as we were reminded a little while ago, the Royal Commission over which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, presided, unanimously recommended that the Scottish Assembly should have a proportional system of election. En doing so, they stressed the importance of proper representation for minorities in the Scottish Assembly and the need for a consensus. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has reminded us that there are some five or six political Parties operating in Scotland at the present time. Then there is a danger of distortion if the first-past-the-post system is used, with possible unfortunate consequences.

We know that in Scotland today, according to the present state of the opinion polls, the Conservative, Labour and Scottish Nationalist Parties are fairly close together; that it is not impossible for any one of those to project itself into the 35 per cent. to 40 per cent. of the electorate bracket, and that the Party that does that could well collect 60 per cent. of the seats. That raises the possibility to which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, referred, of having in the Assembly a Scottish Nationalist majority which was supported by only a minority of votes in the country and which may seek to move Scotland towards an independence which was riot supported at all by the votes of the people of Scotland. It seems to me that the arguments are overwhelming for a proportional system for the Scottish Assembly.

When it comes to systems of proportional representation, it is well known that we on these Benches favour the single transferable system as used in Northern Ireland at the present time and, of course, in the neighbouring country of the Irish Republic. But although that is what we consider to be the best system, and although we have explained its merits many times in the past and will continue to do so in the future, nevertheless we have felt it right to support this Amendment which incorporates the added Member system, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has told us and, indeed, as it has been explained to us by him. We believe that the added Member system is infinitely preferable to the first-past-thepost system and that it is important to have the widest means of agreement about the proportional system to be used in the Scottish Assembly. For those reasons we support the Amendment.

The Amendment which we are discussing and the series of Amendments which flow from it would involve the election of 100 Members on the first-pastthe-post system. There would be 44 of those initially in single-Member constituencies, including Orkney and the Shetlands, and 28 in two-Member constituencies; although those 28 would be divided up in due course, so that in the course of time everyone would have his single-Member representative, which some people consider to be a very important matter. In addition to those 100 Members elected on the first-past-the-post principle, there would be the 50 top-up Members drawn from the regional lists and supplementing those elected on the first-pastthe-post principle, so that the final result was proportionate to the way in which the votes were cast. There would also be the 5 per cent. threshold to which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, referred, and which would ensure that the political Parties represented in this way would be serious contenders for representation in the Assembly. There would be also the opportunity of amendment; so that if it were felt that the system, after it had been in practice for a while, needed some modification, that is provided for in this series of Amendments. I believe there is a strong feeling in the Committee that there should be a proportional voting system for the Scottish Assembly and I hope very much that your Lordships will accept this Amendment.

4.55 p.m.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

On this Amendment I find myself very much in agreement with my noble friends, Lord Kilbrandon and Lord Drumalbyn. I am not going to concern myself with the method of proportional representation. I, myself, rather favour the single transferable vote but it may be that the added Member system proposed by Lord Drumalbyn has an advantage over it. I have an open mind on that. But I am much concerned with the unhealthy trend, as I see it, which has entered into the system of our Parliamentary democratic government based on Party. It is that the Government elected on a minority vote have interpreted their majority of seats, however small, as giving them the right to impose policies on the country for which the majority of people clearly have not voted. It is really a weakness that that has appeared in our democratic system particularly in recent years, and it has done a lot to bring politics into disrepute.

Whether or not it is proper, or a good thing, for the United Kingdom to adopt a proportional representation system is, to my mind, for today's debate, beyond the point. It is not practical politics. It is my guess that, for a number of reasons, it will not be practical politics for five or ten years. But we now have the opportunity to prevent the abuses of the present system being imported into the new Scottish Assembly or Convention, or whatever it is we are going to call it. I do not believe that the majority of people in Scotland wish to be governed by any Party—I do not care which Party it is— elected on a minority vote.

My second reason for supporting the Amendment is the nature of what I call purely Scottish Bills. I hope that my noble friend Lord Dilhorne, who is to introduce an Amendment later, will give a clearer definition. I have been through hundreds of such Bills in some detail and, by and large, they are not the kind of Bills that lead to extreme Party clashes. I have served, as have many other noble Lords, for a good many years on the Scottish Standing Committee. It is longwinded almost beyond words, but you can count the occasions almost on two hands in which there have been serious clashes of principle on these kinds of Bills. I do not think, therefore, that they are the kind of Bills which ought to lead to great and serious clashes between Parties.

The last reason is that which was touched upon by my noble friend, Lord Drumalbyn. In Scotland, as far as we can see ahead, it looks to me as though there are going to be three or four political Parties comparatively evenly balanced. I think that a system of proportional representation would give a fairer result, more acceptable as a whole, to the people of Scotland. I am, as I think the Committee knows, a devolutionist although I do not much like this Bill. I shall do my best to try to improve it with the help of my colleagues on this side of the Committee; but I am bound to say that my attitude to the whole of this Bill will depend very much on whether the Government agree to adopting some form of proportional representation for election to the Assembly.

4.59 p.m.


I thought that I ought perhaps to speak although I promise to be brief. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn referred to the Hansard Society's Commission on Electoral Reform of which I was Chairman and which recommended the additional Member system. The proposals in this Amendment are very similar, although not identical, to the proposals of the Commission and are also very similar to the Amendment which was proposed in another place by my honourable friends Mr. Malcolm Rifkind and Mr. John Mackintosh. They are all variants of the West German system.

There is this difference, I think, in what has been proposed under this Amendment: that some of the first-past-the-post constituencies will have two Members rather than one. There are special reasons for that connected with the minimum of administrative inconvenience and with avoiding the need for re-drawing boundaries and so on, but the basic principle is the same: the preservation of a link between Member and constituency. This is the advantage, I think—and the majority of the members of the Commission came to the same view—of the additional Member system over other systems of proportional representation.

I do not want to go into details about this because no doubt there will be some discussion later. It would be idle to pretend that I am not in favour of PR for Westminster, because I am and I came down clearly on that view; but it is perfectly reasonable for people who are thoroughly against having a proportional representation system of any kind for Westminster nonetheless to be in favour of proportional representation for Edinburgh. The circumstances are different and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, said, one cannot even invoke that boring old sinner of an argument "the thin end of the wedge" on this. After all, we had PR on the STV basis—not the additional Member system—for Stormont in the 1920s and we have had it again fairly recently. It certainly has not shown any sign of bringing PR to Westminster: nor is there any reason why it should.

The two great dangers in having the first-past-the-post system in a devolved Assembly are these: the first is that minorities will be greatly underrepresented. That point was made in both the majority and minority reports of the Royal Commission on the Con stitution, and I will not labour it. Everybody knows that, whatever the merits of the first-past-the-post system may be, it does not give proper representation to minorities—or, if it does, it is by pure fluke. No-one has ever defended it on that ground: nor could they. Secondly, whatever the merits of the system may be when you have a two-Party system and the two major Parties take something like 90 per cent. of the vote, as used to happen in the United Kingdom as a whole from 1945 to 1970—and there may be advantages for it then—it becomes far more capricious in its workings if, as in Scotland today, you have five or six Parties and if, again as in Scotland today, the largest three Parties are extremely close to one another. The result could be a complete lottery. A Party with 37 per cent. of the popular vote could scoop the pool with a comfortable majority of members in an Assembly, Convention, or what-have-you, voted in on a firstpast-the-post system.

The matter becomes even more serious when one of those three Parties is divided from ail the rest by an immense gulf—for, after all, there is a Party which believes in total separation. There is no comparable division in any of the nationwide Parties in the United Kingdom. Under a first-past-the-post system, it would, as has already been said, be perfectly possible for a Party committed to a revolutionary change to win over half the seats although over 60 per cent. of the votes were actually against it. That is not just a remote chance or a possible statistical fluke; it is a possible and indeed probable outcome of a first-past-the-post election in Scotland in the near future. And who could blame the Scottish National Party if, having got in as a minority with a clear majority of seats in the House, it took that as a mandate? After all, that is what the present Government have done in very similar circumstances in England. The SNP could not be blamed for it nor, certainly, could this Government. It would be quite a different thing to do it in those circumstances. I cannot believe that anyone in this Chamber would wish to see such a result. There is really only one certain way of avoiding that highly undesirable result, which is to adopt some form of proportional representation. I very much hope that this Amendment will be pressed to a Division and carried.

5.4 p.m.


I am sorry if I seem, as I shall, to be marring the apparent harmony, not to say unanimity, which has prevailed so far in this debate. In particular I find myself very unhappy at feeling bound to differ from my former Leader, Lord Home of the Hirsel, for whom, as he knows, I have such enormous respect and who, as he also knows, I always wished to remain my Leader for very much longer than he did.

I am very unhappy indeed about this Amendment, for reasons which I shall try to state as concisely as I can. It was of course moved with the highest authority and, if he will allow me to say so, the most effective moderation by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. It has been supported by Members of the greatest weight and distinction in this Chamber, but I think there are very real dangers in it. The first of them is the likely reaction by what may well be the dominant Party in Scotland, the Scottish National Party. Your Lordships will know that this Bill would not be before us at all had it not been for the pressures and demands made by that Party. I would ask your Lordships to reflect on the possible reaction of members of that Party if we were to introduce into this Assembly, which is being introduced, it is said, to meet their wishes, rules which would be likely to have the effect of preventing their getting an effective majority, when we do not apply similar rules in our own legislature.


Would the noble Lord permit me? I think it should be pointed out, to their great credit, that many members of the Scottish National Party are in favour of PR.


I am perfectly certain that the noble Lord is right as of now, but I wonder whether he will reflect with me a little further as to what their likely reaction would be if this Amendment were carried: if they found themselves in a position in which, under the first-past-the-post system, they would have had a majority but we have devised rules which will inhibit them from getting their majority—which under that system they would have got, and which is after all the system that we adopt for the whole of the rest of our arrangements at Westminster and in this Island. Of course, the noble Lord is quite right in saying that, for a reason which I find it very difficult to follow because I do not think it is in their own interests, some of the representatives of that Party have taken this view. But I would still ask your Lordships to consider what the reaction is likely to be if we introduce rules which it will be clearly suggested were for the purpose of inhibiting them from obtaining an effective overall majority in this Assembly.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, said that if we were to accept this we would not be creating a precedent. I think his words were, "It would not be the thin end of the wedge". That is what one always says when one is creating a precedent and, with great respect, one is always wrong because, as the late A. P. Herbert put it, Nothing is a precedent until it is done for the first time". If we do this I think we shall introduce the thin end of the wedge, because there will be many people who would argue—certainly noble Lords on the Liberal Benches—that what is right for the Scottish Assembly is right for the rest of these Islands. And what about the Wales Bill? Will not the same argument be adduced for the Welsh Assembly? Once that is established—and I am sure noble Lords fully understand the natural desires of noble Lords on the Liberal Benches to see some such system which is so obviously desirable from their own electoral point of view—we are kidding ourselves if we say this is not the thin end of the wedge. Therefore, with enormous respect, I differ from the noble and learned Lord on that point.

If we are to plunge into this Assembly and into PR, I suggest—I say this with great diffidence in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, who I think invented it—that the additional Member system seems one of the least desirable forms of proportional representation. What is to be the position of these additional members? They will not have a constituency of their own. They will be elected on a Party list over a regional area and of course they will owe their election—let us be clear about it—to the position on their Party list which their Party managers put them in.

I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, who referred to the danger today from the increased growth of the Party machines. What greater reinforcement could one give to the Party machines than to have a number of persons elected not by an individual constituency, but because of the position on a Party list which the Party machine has conferred upon them? I was most interested in something that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said on this point, because I think that in his speech he was very conscious of this weakness. He said that it would be for the Parties—he will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that I paraphrase him accurately—to arrange the order of candidates on their lists. But he said that that would be all right, because there would be regulations to secure that this was democratic. I have immense admiration for the ingenuity of my noble friend, but the devising of regulations to ensure that Party machines operate democratically in respect of the selection of candidates seems to me not to be self-evidently very easy, and I think that we should not accept this proposal without at least being satisfied that this is feasible.

So I feel that the position of these added Members will be one of some embarrassment. They will be the creatures, in the strict sense, of their Party machines. I have no doctrinal antipathy to that. In a modest way, as President of the Wessex area of the National Union of Unionist and Conservative Associations, I suppose that I am part of a Party machine, and, if we were to evolve a system of this kind in England, I suppose that I might even have my own, modest racket in the selection of candidates. But, in all seriousness, this seems to me a very considerable defect in the system and I must confess that I am extremely unhappy about it.

Then my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn produced an argument which I hope I misunderstood, because I certainly found it difficult to follow. He said that it was all right to have this system for the Scottish Assembly, because it was not a sovereign body, and that because it was not a sovereign body it would be wrong for it to have an electoral system which was palpably unfair, the corollary to that being that only sovereign bodies can be based on an electoral system which is palpably unfair.


My noble friend is putting together two or three sentences of mine which, no doubt, he jotted smartly down on paper, in an order in which I did not put them, and drawing conclusions from the order in which he has put them.


My noble friend's intervention was, perhaps, more obscure than usual. I did jot down my noble friend's observations—I hope in the same order—and, with great respect to him, he has not explained what is the validity of an argument for saying that a non-sovereign body should be based on an electoral system which is not palpably unfair, with the plain implication as to what should be the position in respect of a sovereign body.


Will my noble friend forgive me for interrupting again? He is now referring to the summing-up, at the end of my speech. But I quoted from the Royal Commission's document, in which they said that the objection is not so substantial where an Assembly is dealing with purely domestic matters, as where it is dealing with other matters, such as foreign policy and so on. I think my noble friend is rather confusing the argument about fairness—which is the other argument, about consulting minorities and about minorities being represented—with the argument about sovereignty needing strong and consistent government. That is perhaps even more important, in certain circumstances, in a sovereign country than it is to have a body elected by proportional representation.


I do not want to continue the matter unduly, but I think that my noble friend has really confirmed what I was saying, that, in the case of a sovereign body, so important is it—and here I wholly agree with him—to have a Government that can govern, that one must accept, if necessary, for that greater end, the lesser evil of palpable unfairness, and that, therefore, because this is a non-sovereign body, it is, in his view, much more important to avoid palpable unfairness. He has only explained in even more polished language, though perhaps at slightly greater length than before, the view that he expressed in his admirable speech.

I have one final point to make, and here I draw the opposite conclusion from that of my noble friend. He said that, because under the Bill the Assembly will have the power to determine its own electoral system in the future, it was desirable that it should be elected under this kind of system at the first instance, and it could then decide to what system it went. I draw the opposite conclusion from that. I should have thought that, if you were giving this body—and I think that it is right to give it—the right to determine its own electoral system, you should elect it under the system which is the current system in this country for elections. Then, if it does not like it, it is in a position, if it wishes, to evolve a new system.

The Earl of PERTH

I think that the noble Lord is mistaken when he says that the Assembly will have such a power. It is my intention later to move an Amendment for this purpose, but in the Bill as it is drafted at the moment the Assembly has no such power.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl. I was misled by my noble friend, because it was his argument to which I was referring. But I will certainly bear in mind the noble Earl's warning when we come to his Amendment, because, if anything, he is strengthening my feeling that we should oppose it.

As I have tried to make clear, I am very unhappy about these proposals. If I may sum up what I have been saying, I do not think it is sensible in the present atmosphere to apply to the Scottish Assembly an electoral system which is different from that which we accept for the management of our own affairs in the United Kingdom, unless—and I come back to the noble Earl's point—and until that body, once elected, feels disposed to adopt it. But for us to impose it ab initio would be a mistake and would make an experiment, already very precarious, even more so. Secondly, I believe that, despite the efforts of my noble and learned friend Lord Kilbrandon, we should be creating a precedent, and a precedent which we should regret for many years to come.

5.18 p.m.


There can be no doubt that I must be the sole Member of your Lordships' House who has failed to follow the logic embodied in the arguments adduced on both sides on this debate. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I may be called upon to vote at the termination of this debate without understanding anything at all about it. It all appears to be very complicated. My only possible consolation—and I have sometimes felt this in my experience on a public platform—is that one can speak better on a subject about which one knows nothing than on a subject about which one is fully informed. But I gathered, or tried to gather, from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that the proposition before your Lordships is related to the possibility of injecting some form of proportional representation into the elections which are to take place some day in connection with the creation of a Scottish Assembly. That is how I understand it.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who has just resumed his seat, is quite right to direct our attention to the adverse reaction which might ensue from the creation of a new form of election in our country. There are dangers in any kind of election and, as we know from our experience, many changes have ensued as a result of our frequent elections since the beginning of this century.

During the course of this debate, there has been a great deal of talk about majorities and minorities. There are some people who dislike majorities, while others dislike minorities. Those who dislike majorities are usually on the side of the minorities—and vice versa. We understand exactly what is the motivation. I dismiss most of the arguments for the simple reason that for quite a long time I have felt that majorities do not matter very much and that minorities are of no value if we are to produce beneficial results. Therefore, it might be advisable to have some form of election which would lead to—I use the simple term—adequate representation of the electors in our country. It has happened elsewhere without any adverse reaction, except that, in some countries where the method of proportional representation has been in vogue for many years, they have some- times failed to come to definite conclusions. That is not a bad thing. Sometimes it is far better not to come to a definite conclusion. Since the beginning of this century, we have had various Governments which came to definite conclusions and we see the results—some of them not altogether very satisfactory. So it might be advisable to take certain risks.

What is proposed, as I understand it, although I am open to correction, is not that in future elections in the United Kingdom or any part of it we should adopt in a wholesale fashion the principle of proportional representation. We are endeavouring only to introduce the thin end of the wedge—very thin. In my opinion, that is a very useful and desirable experiment. Whether the system that is advocated, based on the Amendment, is the correct one is a matter upon which the Government representative will express an opinion.

However, what I should like the Government to do would be this. They may have come to definite conclusions about every item in this Bill, but on this matter of the method of election for the Assembly in Scotland the important consideration, if we are to have less turbulence in Scotland—political, industrial, social and all the rest—is to have an Assembly that at any rate appears to be a fair one and likely to operate objectively and impartially, particularly as it happens to be an innovation. In other words, we take risks when we seek to introduce innovations affecting an old institution that may or may not have served its purpose over the years; but here is something new and it is worthwhile undertaking the risk.

Moreover, I fancy that it will suit the people of Scotland very much better than the normal first-past-the-post kind of election. A great deal of nonsense is spoken about unity in Scotland. I know Scotland fairly well. I am almost inclined to say that there will never be unity in Scotland until every clan wears the same kind of kilt. When I think of what Glasgow is like—and I have lived in it for more than 30 years— and how it relates to people in the Hebrides and other parts of Scotland, placed geographically as they find themselves and not as a matter of individual selection, I am bound to say that what Scotland needs is more fairness and impartiality rather than a semblance of unity based on a majority Government.

For that reason, I am going to ask my noble and learned friend who is to reply to consider all the arguments that have been adduced in the course of this short discussion and to take them back and consider whether it is possible to introduce some element of proportional representation—either the one that is advocated in the Amendment or something similar. Let us experiment. In my judgment. it can do no harm. I do not believe that there will be an adverse reaction in any form. It will do a great deal of good.

May I say one last word on this matter. For Heaven's sake! we must not do this in order to please the Liberal Party. I have been wanting to say that for some time! It is not that I bear any malice towards the Liberal Party; far from it. However, it seems to me that if they had selected me as Leader of the Liberal Party—not that I should have been likely to accept the offer—I should have advised them quite differently. If you want to reach your objective, you must adopt diplomatic means and not be arrogant. Over the years, I tried arrogance and I failed. We must not do this merely because it is a Liberal proposition.

If the Government say, "All right, we will consider the matter and we will adopt something similar to what has been asked for", the Liberals will come along and say that it is a Liberal victory. This has got nothing whatever to do with the Lib-Lab pact—at least I hope not—nor should it disrupt that pact; let it go on, for what it may be worth. Therefore, let us decide this question quite objectively.

In my judgment, it will satisfy the people of Scotland and it will not trouble the people on this side of the Border. If we can create in Scotland an organisation that has a measure of autonomy, even if its operations are occasionally restricted in the interests of the wellbeing of the whole of the United Kingdom, it will be all to the good. For that reason, I ask my noble and learned friend to give careful consideration to the matter.

5.30 p.m.


If the weight of voices in this debate in Committee has any effect on your Lordships' decision on this Amendment, I shall be very glad of this opportunity very briefly to add mine in support of it. I think that, whether or not proportional representation is accepted in the final version of the Bill when it becomes an Act, the House of Commons should have a further opportunity of considering the matter. In my view it would be wrong if the prejudice in that House against proportional representation was allowed to guide a decision with regard to the Scottish Assembly.

The speech of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter seemed to me to be a very good example of an argument which in fact should be used the other way round. If the opposition in the United Kingdom Parliament against proportional representation is allowed to dictate the decision of that Parliament in respect of the Assembly or Convention in Edinburgh, then the Scottish Nationalist Party, for instance, will have a very good argument that their interests are not being properly safeguarded and that it would be far better for the Scottish Assembly to have a different form, not only of constitution but of election, from that of the United Kingdom Parliament. I should have thought—and quite clearly my noble friend's argument was based on a misapprehension with regard to the point of view of the Scottish Nationalist Party—that in fact there would be a continuing grievance if we were to impose upon the Scottish Assembly the same form of election which happens to suit and to be part of the tradition, first of England and then of the United Kingdom.

I think we should not start this new experiment, which as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, is a new development in the constitution of our Islands, by depriving the Scottish people of what at any rate a large number of people think is the best system for ensuring that the Scottish Convention accurately reflects the whole spectrum of political opinion in that country. Therefore I hope that the Committee will support this Amendment, and I think we have a right to do so in view of the fact that its advocates include some of the most distinguished legal and constitutional minds in Scotland and in Great Britain as a whole.

It is quite unnecessary for me to try to repeat the arguments which have been put forward so well by my noble friends on this side of the Committee and by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell; but whatever may be the ultimate outcome, I think it would be right for us on this occasion, and in view of the importance of the issue, to remit it to the House of Commons for reconsideration in the final stages of its enactment, so that they should have a second chance of considering something on which, by that time, there may be some expression of opinion so far as the Scottish people are concerned.

5.33 p.m.


I have no advice to give to the Committee but I want to say a few words in order to make my own position clear. I am unhappy about this Amendment and I am very unhappy about the Bill. I believe that in the world in which we live—a world of constant change—the one great asset that the British people have is their unity and anything which saps that unity must in the end be against the national interest. It may come—as these things do come—like a thief in the night. We may wake up to find that the consequences overwhelm us and that we have not realised what those consequences arc going to be. I must express my regret that advancing years and impaired hearing prevented me from doing what I wanted to do and intended to do, namely to object to the withdrawal of the Motion that was moved on second reading and to divide the House on that issue. That is what I feel about it.

I have listened to the arguments today and I must confess that they have passed right over my head. When people speak about democracy they are speaking of something which I see in quite different terms. Democracy is not a matter of mathematical formulae, of feeding something into a constituency and getting the answer out. All government, in its most primitive form or its most complicated form, be it democracy or authoritarian, can only be carried out by consent. The issue is, how do you get that consent? Under the Hitlerian system you get it through the concentration camp, the rubber truncheon and through brutality. In our society, thank God! for the last three or four hundred years we have got it by persuasion. What elections are about fundamentally is not deciding who is at the top of the poll: it is a time when the British people educate themselves in the realities of the decisions which have to be taken in their name and which will succeed or fail to succeed to the extent to which they understand and accept them.

I should like to quote one example, not in order to raise Party feeling. Let us take the Industrial Relations Bill. After the 1970 election, I remember going to the centre of London and watching an immense parade organised by the TUC in opposition to that Bill. I knew from my own experience as a Member of the House of Commons that that parade had not taken place by accident. There was a deep feeling and I was quite convinced that, if a Conservative Government, even with a large majority, tried to carry through that legislation—and I said so in this House—they would fail, and fail they did. It may be argued that that Bill was soundly drawn; the principles were good but public opinion was not ready for it and so it broke down.

The arguments we have heard today are really quite extraordinary. We are told—and I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—that this Bill had its origin in an attempt to "do down" the nationalist feelings which have been aroused in Scotland for good or ill reasons. It was a piece of political manoeuvring in order to buy time. But that it could be successful I gravely doubt. We are told today that we must have this Amendment in the Bill in case, as the result of an election for a Scottish Assembly, a majority of Scottish Nationalist opinion finds itself able to carry out its will. So what we are engaged in today is cooking up a means of stopping the Scottish Nationalists from having their way if they get a majority. The majority of the Scottish people are persuaded by their experience and by those who are seeking to guide them as to what to do, and at the end of the day they will do it. If your Lordships try to stop them you will not succeed but you will have worsened the situation. It will in fact intensify the feelings of Scottish Nationalists that what this House is setting out to do is to put in, as it were, a long stop.

One of the things that I am afraid of in these Islands is the emergence of a force which has not broken through for very many years—English nationalism. Perhaps it will not come in my time but how much longer do noble Lords think that the measures which are being carried through can be continued without stopping to reckon the cost? For example, the day might come when economic disaster descended upon us, or even military defeat that came about because of the weakening of the political and emotional forces —all the forces which make up nationalism—and my Lords they are not all bad. Any force which makes a man look for something bigger than himself to serve is not wholly bad.

As your Lordships know, I have spent most of my life as a regular soldier. I come from a line of forebears with experience of soldiering and I want to put this to those of your Lordships who have shared my experience. There are forces that make a man think that ' A ' company is better than ' D ' company but, if at the end of the week he is transferred to ' D ' company and he thinks ' D ' company is better than ' A ', the fact that that man is finding an allegiance among those he serves and for whom in the last analysis men will give their lives, then for good or bad reasons he will be serving something bigger than himself.

Our job is to try to harness this to the realities of the situation, not to try to submerge it, or to bring in a measure of this kind, which we know in our heart of hearts, if we took a free vote in this House, we would turn down tomorrow. We are discussing the Committee stage of this Bill because the convention says we must all be very nice and must not vote against it on Second Reading. We are now being asked to pass an Amendment which we know in our heart of hearts, every man-jack of us, including the Liberals—and that is a great tribute by me, holding the views I do about Liberals—would be doing something which at the end of the day can only weaken the very forces, the very foundations, of our society.

I want to say one thing more, and it is this. I wonder if I could, with great respect, ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, to reflect on this. Democracy clearly does not end with the totting up of the votes; it is not a question of this batch of votes against that batch of votes. May I remind him of the Churchillian doctrine which is long since forgotten, but which was a marked contributory reason for the heavy Conservative defeat in 1945, that there should be one vote, one value. At the 1945 Election the principle which had governed the drawing up of constituencies, the size of constituencies, from the end of the First World War up to 1945 had been turned upside down, because of the movements of population during the war and the fact that there had been no redrawing of boundaries, so that an urban vote became worth about one-and-three-quarters the value of a rural vote.

I can assure noble Lords that the Labour Government did not know what they were doing in the 1951 Election, which reversed it. I remember going, as a Member of the House of Commons, to a room upstairs and discussing the proposals. I did the sums and worked out what the consequences were going to be. Mr. Dick Windle, who was the national agent, came to me afterwards and said, "Look, young man, do not worry about this; this is a matter for Transport House". So they lost the 1950 Election, or nearly lost it, and lost completely in 1951, because the balance had been altered.

Here again, now in Scotland, particularly where you have sparsely built-up areas and very crowded urban areas, unless there is some attempt to secure an equality between the value of one vote as against another you are going to get the most grotesque results, never mind about your mathematical formula. I do not know whether the Committee is going to divide or not. If it divides, I shall certainly vote against this Amendment. I hold that if this Amendment is adopted we are starting on a course of action the end of which we do not see. We ought to be very cautious, very careful, before we take another step down this very slippery slope.

5.43 p.m.


May I say that I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said. I believe there are two points here; the first is with regard to method. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, said that this is not the thin end of a wedge. May I say I agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that this would be interpreted in the country as the thin end of a wedge. I was in my time a member of four Speakers' Conferences on electoral reform. Certainly at the majority of those conferences we discussed proportional representation. At the last conference the decision of the Speaker's Conference by 19 votes to one was against proportional representation for the United Kingdom Parliament. That was, of course, the single transferable vote. This is the added Member system, which to my mind is a good deal less attractive than the single transferable vote system.

If you have this Assembly or Convention, you will have some Members who are elected and some Members appointed by the Party caucus. Therefore, you are going to have two classes of Member, and you will have Members who are appointed by the Party caucus who are not necessarily the most popular with the electorate. I should have thought that the conclusion of this matter ought not to be what my noble friend Lord Alport suggested. He said we should accept this Amendment and have it turned down by the Commons. That was the gist of it. I should have thought the happier solution, for those who are in favour of this and for those who are against it, would be to insert powers in this Bill, as I understand the noble Earl, Lord Perth, is intending to do, to give the Assembly themselves the power to regulate their own method of election. I cannot think that if they have that power they will choose this particular added Member system, although I think it is quite likely that if they had that power they would choose the single transferable vote system, which is the more attractive of the different forms of proportional representation. But leave it to their power, without the danger of attempting to put it into this Bill. I believe that would be a very grave mistake at the present time.


May I correct my noble friend. I did not say it would be turned down by the House of Commons. I indicated that I know that the prejudices against this are very strong in the House of Commons, for reasons which my noble friend and all others in this House know. But I had hoped that the fact that we had passed an Amendment in this sense would at any rate indicate, not only to the House of Commons but also to the country in general, that there was an increasing body of opinion in favour of a system of proportional representation, at any rate for the Scottish Assembly.

5.40 p.m.


I seek to speak at an early stage in this debate to express personal views on this subject, having already made brief references to them in previous debates on devolution in your Lordships' House, when I have recommended a system of proportional representation for any body that was to be set up. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in his speech expressed very concisely and cogently the objections which are raised to a system of proportional representation. I am one of those who believe that if it were introduced in Scotland it need not in any way prejudice the position of Westminster. The precedent of Northern Ireland has already been referred to, where proportional representation was introduced, and it had no effect at all upon our system at Westminster.

I would add to that by saying that if there were to be any changes in the methods of electing Members of another place here at Westminster a great deal of work would have to be done beforehand in order to inform people of the adjustments that would be necessary. The whole question of Election Manifestoes would have to be changed. Now it is a matter of honour that every point in an Election Manifesto is a pledge and must be carried out. In a system of proportional representation there would have to be adjustments to this approach to General Elections, because there would probably not be a clear majority afterwards. Also there would need to be a time for negotiations after a General Election. There is an enormous amount to be considered, requiring adjustments to be thought out, and about which the public need to be informed and prepared before any changes of that kind could be made at Westminster.

My point is that that does not apply here, because if this Bill goes through, or if a Bill goes through, setting up a body on these lines, it will be a completely new body—Assembly we call it for the moment—and it could start with its own system. The Assembly would not be providing a Government, it would not be providing the Government of the country. Under the terms of the Bill it is to provide an Executive. So I personally support the principle in this Amendment which was introduced with such clarity by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon.

In Scotland the three largest parties are roughly equal in their support and have been over the past three or four years. That does not even include the Liberal Party which is another Party to be reckoned with in Scotland. My noble friends Lord Drumalbyn and Lord Blake have pointed out the danger of a minority of the electorate of this new body putting into control of this body, under a first-pastthe-post system, a Party which has as its aim the breakaway of Scotland and the disintegration of the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter argued that that might offend the Scottish National Party. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, pointed out that they are officially in favour of a system of proportional representation for this Assembly, but it is not the one here. From what one understands from what they have said they are in favour of the alternative vote system in single Member constituencies, but with added members. Therefore, it is not so different from what is proposed here.

My noble friend asks what could be their objective in supporting such a system? The answer is that I think they are over-confident—confident that they would, under this system, get a majority. What many of us are worried about—certainly I am—is a Party gaining control of this new Assembly which has a minority support of about 30 per cent., or even less. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel pointed out the dangers that have arisen in this country as a whole, because policies have been pressed through which had only minority support. However, as I indicated, we are not discussing Westminster and I believe that a great many other adjustments would be necessary before any question of changes at Westminster could be considered. Therefore, I agree with the proposition that proportional representation should be introduced at the beginning if an Assembly of this kind is brought into existence.

The question then is: What is the best system? The Amendments propose that there should be 150 Members, that is, falling in with the numbers suggested in the Bill as at present drafted; that 100 of those should be elected by single constituency election as at present; but that there should also be a system, which we can examine in detail when we reach later Amendments, of adding 50 because each elector would have a second vote which would be for the Party.

I am very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Blake speaking on this matter, because his Committee, sponsored by the Hansard Society, recommended the additional members system as their preferred one for a system of proportional representation. My noble friend reminded the House in a debate on religious education last summer that many years ago I had had the pleasure of teaching him mathematics and ballistics, which seems an improbable event as he is a very eminent historian. But, of course, it took place in the early days of the war, in 1940, when he was an officer cadet at the OCTU base school of artillery where I was an instructor. I can return the compliment by saying what an agreeable exercise it was to undertake that task, and I can also say that the Blake Committee got its mathematics right. It represents and reflects the wishes of the electorate to a very high degree of accuracy. However, at the same time it preserves the system familiar to the British and the Scottish electorate of a member representing a constituency being directly elected.

Another point that I should like to bring out is that a system of this kind will encourage people to vote, because every vote will count towards the result. Sometimes now in constituencies which are massively safe for Labour or massively safe for Conservatives many people know that they are wasting their time if they vote. However, under this system anybody voting in any part of the country will be making some contribution to the result. In countries where a system of this kind has been adopted, such as West Germany, the number of people voting has increased—the percentage has increased enormously, and that must be healthy for democracy. Moreover, the number of those abstaining has fallen.

I have mentioned West Germany. There the AM system has now reached a stage where half the Members are on a list. That was increased. They started originally with a system where there were less, but they decided that patronage and other things did not enter into this situation as much as some noble Lords have feared, and they actually increased it. However, that is not suggested here. Here the proportion is 50 added Members to 100. Should there be changes in the Bill—some of my noble friends have put down Amendments which may be accepted—which would reduce the total number of Members of this Assembly to about 100, which was the number recommended by the Royal Commission of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, then of course this system could be adapted in the same proportion in order to meet that situation. It is not wedded to the figure of 150.

I believe that these Amendments, which I personally favour, would provide the other place with an opportunity to discuss a system which is an alternative to the one which it discussed previously, because it has the lists based on regions. I think that that would be something which would be welcomed by many not only in another place but also throughout the country. It would give the other place a chance to consider an alternative to the proposal put forward there by the honourable Members, Mr. Rifkind and Mr. Mackintosh. Therefore, I quite understand the objections which have been put forward by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but with this new situation, a new body in Scotland and a special situation in Scotland I should favour a system of proportional representation.


Before my noble friend sits down, is he aware that his lucid and well reasoned argument in favour of the additional Member system in general does nothing to diminish the apprehensions of those of us who feel that, despite the assurances of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, this is a pretty thick end to a wedge?


I hoped that I had said at the beginning that I thought that we were considering this matter quite separately from Westminster and that if there were to be changes suggested of any system of proportional representation—not necessarily this one at Westminster—an enormous amount of other connected work, such as the whole approach to General Elections and the whole system of what happens after General Elections, would not only have to be worked out but would have to be described to the public, and the public would have to be ready to accept it. If the public were not ready to do so, then changes would not happen. However, that is not the situation in Scotland: in Scotland this is something new. It is a quite new body and I believe that proportional representation would be appropriate for that kind of body, and ought to be introduced at the beginning when one can start with a system which would then he adapted and right for proportional representation.

5.59 p.m.

The Earl of PERTH

I should like to begin by saying that I have a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who apologises to your Lordships because, although he was one of the signatories to the Amendment, he has had to go to the Far East. He makes his apologies for being unable to take part in the Committee stage on this particular Amendment.

I hope that it is in order for me to mention the Scottish Peers' Association which some of your Lordships will know is an all-Party body concerned with Scottish interests. It is not all of a mind; that is to say, it is no secret to tell your Lordships that some of the Members are not at all happy about the Bill and not in favour of devolution. However, on all sides they have agreed that, in the event of there being a devolution Bill, it is of the greatest importance that the way it is chosen should be the right one. Indeed, at our meetings over the last three years I think we have discussed this question more than any other. We have had the advantage of advice from various sources telling of their particular systems and whether they would like proportional representation in the form of the single transferable vote or many others. In the end, we came to the conclusion that in the circumstances the Amendment which is before us today is the right one. Necessarily it is not perfect. We know that the Liberals would have liked something more on the single transferable vote system, but all recognise that, in an event like this, the whole is more important than the part. That is why we have this Amendment before us today.

The main factor which brought the Amendment to your Lordships was that of fairness. We felt that it was of the greatest importance that in the first assembly the composition should clearly be a fair one. Incidentally, on the question of fairness, I think I am right in saying that the Scottish National Party, who have supported some form of proportional representation, have said that they themselves would not want to bring forward their doctrine—whatever it may be, or however extreme—unless they were sure that they had the majority of Scots behind them. I think that is the reason why, out of a sense of fairness, they are ready to support this Amendment.

We also felt that it was very important that the Amendment should be different from that which was turned down in another place. I am sure your Lordships will recognise why we wanted that, and this Amendment meets that point. Again, we thought it was of great importance that the regions of the countryside should have considerable weight, and that is the reason why, in the short time that was available to us, we adopted a system of regions for the 50 seats that are mentioned.

I recognise the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Tranmire and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that it results in two kinds of MPs. While that is perfectly true, I think that by its very nature, the Parties would try to nominate people who were particularly popular in a region. If I am wrong in that, and if a further Amendment were accepted later on, then, if the Assembly wanted to change this method, it would be open to them to do so.

I would ask the Government to accept the Amendment in the way that it is meant; that is, because we believe it is for the best advantage of a new Assembly. In saying this I would point out that the Amendment gives the Government two-thirds of what they want; and I should have thought on the basis of having two-thirds—that is to say 100 out of 150 being chosen in the ordinary first-past-the-post method—they should be satisfied.


The reason why this Bill is before your Lordships is that the nation is divided, politically, socially and industrially, and I believe that this division is the chief cause of our poor industrial performance. This provides the impetus that makes for nationalism. It is difficult to be proud of being British; therefore one wants to be proud of being Welsh or Scottish. The Bill itself is divisive, but if it is passed let us not make it more divisive. First-past-the-post is divisive and decisive. Proportional representation is less decisive but also less divisive; therefore, I support this Amendment.

6.5 p.m.


I rise to support this Amendment. The basis for my authority to invervene—and I do so with considerable trepidation—is that I have twice been elected first-past-the-post to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and I have also once been elected to an Assembly on STV and once to a Convention on STV; so probably in this one case my experience is fairly unique. Before I begin my support to this Amendment may I say to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that, unfortunately for him, the wedge is there and it is very thick. Northern Ireland is expected to have STV in the European elections and is also expected to have STV if again it has an Assembly, Convention, or call it what you like, and we are part of the United Kingdom.


My noble friend has referred to me. Would he not agree that were we to insist on this provision in respect of the Scottish Assembly the wedge would be even thicker?


I entirely agree with my noble friend, but that does not mean that I do not think that the situation is entirely relevant and correct. The fact that the Constitution or the Parliament of Northern Ireland has been suspended should not cloud the success of that Parliament during the period it existed. It provided an administration for that Province which was unrivalled in its humanity and accountability. It should also not prevent us from looking at the lessons and trying to derive some benefit from those lessons and applying them to this Bill.

The first objective of the Bill is to maintain the Union and I, having lived all my life in a Unionist Ulster, consider that that is of paramount importance to this United Kingdom. The second is to provide for better government for Scotland; and it is on that issue that I want to examine the question of the method of voting. I reckon that if this Parliament chooses first-past-the-post as the method of election for the first Assembly we will be adversely affecting both those objectives. If Scotland is to prosper—and we all hope that it will under a devolved Parliament—the first task which faces that Assembly is to establish good relations between the sovereign Parliament and its own executive within Westminster, within Whitehall and Edinburgh. This is a vital task, and one which it is not easy to achieve.

The number of lessons to be drawn from Stormont are many. Stormont was formed at a time when Government interference in everyday life was at a minimum. It was formed because it was the only method by which Ulster could remain as part of the United Kingdom. I do not think that that is the driving reason why we are suggesting devolution in Scotland. Even with that advantage, at times there were strains placed on the administration, on the inter-governmental co-operation; and it is to the great credit of the administrations in Westminster and Stormont that those strains never ended in any form of weakening of the Constitution.

If the relationships between the two Governments were excellent during the pre-war period, there did come a time immediately post-war, with the arrival of the Socialist Government, when the question of the relationship between Stormont and Westminster was raised. It was raised publicly and also in the Cabinet. The Socialist Government with their welfare legislation, were elected, and the question arose as to whether it was right for a Unionist Government to pass socialist legislation. Indeed, various options were examined in great detail. The solution canvassed most publicly was called "Dominion status", which undoubtedly would have weakened the link within the Union.

After considerable debate the Prime Minister of the day—and this is recorded in the Cabinet minutes—acknowledged the fears of the Unionist Party. To some extent the Unionist Party was a coalition. It had these vast working-class votes in Belfast and other industrial cities and, therefore, it was not in fact a doctrinaire Party in the accepted sense of the word. The Prime Minister acknowledged the fears of the Unionist Party but pointed out that, as a Unionist, he was determined to maintain that Union. Although accepting that the subordinate Parliament ought not slavishly to follow Westminster in every respect, he said that it was important that parity continued between the various parts of the United Kingdom: We are therefore committed to following Westminster in the extension and improvement of our social services, no matter what Party is in power. We must face the fact that Westminster is supreme. That conclusion is relevant today in that it lays down the guidelines for a devolved Parliament in its relationship with the sovereign Parliament. It must follow that, if we are to establish those good relations between the two Governments, we must choose a form of election which will not produce large and aggressive majorities. The limited area in which a devolved Parliament has to operate will lead inevitably to a desire for independence if we have these large aggressive majorities. To my mind it does not matter very much where the conflict arises because there are only two possible permutations which could not arouse controversy; namely, if we have a Conservative Government here and a Unionist Assembly in Scotland, or a Socialist Government here and a Socialist Assembly in Scotland. Those are the only two; all others would produce conflict of some description. It seems to me to be very important that on first election we should do as much as we can to enable that Assembly to have a form of PR which will, therefore, blunt that aggressive approach. Therefore, I am convinced that we should have some form of PR.

I now come to the method of proportional representation. I have said that I have twice been elected on the first-pastthe-post system and twice on the STV system. There are many Members of this noble Committee who know the thrill of the count, who know the fight of the election, but I think that they would find the thrill of a PR election rather different. One starts off on a tumbril. In the constituency which I represented there were 97,000 people and it stretched for 90 miles. Four of you start off in the same Party and all end up making the same speech. Each one begins by speaking totally differently from the others, but inevitably, in the end, each makes the same speech.

Some noble Lords may know about a Lambeg drum, which is the Irish war drum. When a Lambeg drum competition is held there are two, three or four teams of Lambeg drums and they all start with a different rhythm. Throughout the night as the drums beat the aim is to ensure that everyone ends up with the same beat. The beat that usually wins is, "There are no public houses on the road to Lambeg, Lambeg, Lambeg". That is just about what happens when one takes part in a PR election. All find themselves making the same speech, and one has to say to someone on the STV, "I am a better man than he is "—I do not find it a very nice thing to say"—I am for number one, put him or her number two". That is the disadvantage of the STV system.

However, there are more disadvantages, because when one is elected one is elected for a constituency of 100,000, and in the case that I am discussing two-thirds of that majority is within 20 miles of one point. So all the Members look after that 60,000 of the population. The other 30,000 are basically totally inelective.

Therefore, under the STV system we have transferred the fairness of our election from being normal coverage over the whole country to being an urban-dominated representation. Further, when one is elected one finds that because each Party, or most of the Parties, has someone elected, the only people who come to you as a Member are those of your own Party because they can go to one of their Party. To my mind this is a negation of our form of democracy, where an elected Member is the elected Member for the whole electorate and not just for his own Party. I believe that to he wrong. I do not believe that it serves democracy any more than it does the question of looking after the 60,000 as opposed to the 40 per cent. of the community. From my experience I believe that the AM system serves fairness and makes sure that the community is represented overall. There fore, I have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment.

6.16 p.m.


I am sure that we would all agree that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has done us all a very great service in giving his personal experience on an issue which has been hotly argued by both sides today, but largely by those with a theoretical background. His remarks have been an enormous help to us. The noble Viscount did us a further service by drawing attention to the dangers of what he called the "large aggressive majority" and one which can be elected on a minority vote. I should simply like to link what he has said with the very solemn warning—and I should like to fortify it—of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn when he referred to the experience of the Province of Quebec. In that provincial Parliament a Party is in power, elected on 40 per cent. of the votes, holding 70 per cent. of the seats.

As I said on Second Reading, I have some experience there; I have been there on average four times a year over the past three years. Obviously, I hesitate to say anything that might be construed as criticism of the political system and workings of a fellow country. Nevertheless, I have many friends there, in both the English-speaking and the French-speaking communities. Not one of them would dissent from the view that in their province in Canada they see a potential tragedy unrolling. Here is that government, with a large aggressive majority elected on a minority of votes, in the process of tearing apart both a province and a country. They have not yet reached a state of separation, though that is their avowed objective. But even ahead of that we are seeing the disastrous consequences to the economy of that country—industry keeping away from the province, companies moving out and general disruption, uncertainty and unhappiness among the populace. If that can happen in circumstances of this kind, we should pay very close heed to it before we decide how we shall put the Bill into operation.

I believe that the real moral from what my noble friend has just said and from the example of the Province of Quebec is that we are tinkering with something which may appear to be a little like a cosy, comfortable, safe little family car but which is liable to turn into a juggernaut, run off into all sorts of unforeseen directions and create untold havoc. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, did well to remind us of what we are doing in considering this Bill at all. Nevertheless, we are considering it, so let us send it to the people of Scotland for them to make their decision on only in a form which will give them the fairest opportunity of making their will heard in the deliberations of this Assembly, if it comes to pass.

6.20 p.m.


This proposal that we should adopt proportional representation is put forward in an Amendment in the names of four highly esteemed Members of this House. But what we might call a remarkable coincidence is that the same four highly esteemed Members are also putting forward Amendment No. 21. They are urging us in Amendment No. 2 to adopt a system which is untried, and I reasonably ask myself whether they themselves have full confidence in that system. I suggest that they have some doubts. Why? Let me read what Amendment No. 21 says. It is on page 4 of the Marshalled List. I shall not read the whole of the Amendment but I shall read the third paragraph, which is paragraph (4C). This is what it says: Notwithstanding any provision of this Act the Assembly may at any time after the first ordinary election review the suitability and fairness of the system of proportional voting prescribed by this Act and may make such regulations amending that system as the Assembly shall prescribe…". It seems that they have some doubts about the workability of the system that they are advancing. It seems they have some doubts about its fairness, otherwise why are they proposing to move Amendment No. 21?


Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Does it not occur to the noble Lord that the word on which he should have placed emphasis is "Assembly". Here we are legislating for the electoral system to be set up. The idea of this Amendment is that it would allow the Assembly either to endorse that or to change it. Is there any thing wrong with that?


Why does the noble Lord wish to allow the Assembly to do that? If he had no doubts at all about the fairness and workability of this system, it would be quite unnecessary to confer that power upon the suggested new Assembly. In putting forward this proposal, the noble Lord and his collaborators obviously have some slight doubts about the suitability and fairness of the system, otherwise they would not have mentioned those two words. Now I yield to the Liberal Benches.


The noble Lord surely must have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. He no doubt listened to him with great care. He clearly said that he had been chairman of a boundary commission, and that there was no time at all to arrange, for example, an STV system for the first election. Therefore, this system was the fairest which could be devised in the time available. To give the power to the Assembly to assess it thereafter seems to be reasonable.


That is to say that we would have a half-baked system for the first election and a better system later on. That does not add to any confidence that I may have in the system being put forward.

Amendment No. 21 suggests that the workability and fairness of the system may have to be inquired into, so obviously the proposers have some doubts. But by the time that first election, with its possible unfairness and possible unworkability, has taken place, some electoral calamity may have occurred. It will then be too late to put that right. We have a system of elections now. It is under that particular system that we are passing this Bill.

The Earl of ONSLOW

Could the noble Lord elucidate what he means by an "electoral calamity"?


Yes. You might get the wrong Party chosen. I am saying that here we are in this House at this moment in 1978 administering a Parliamentary system which was elected on the first-past-the-post basis, and we really ought not to try to change the rules in the middle of the game. Otherwise, one Party or the other in Scotland, after having had the rules changed on the eve of the election, might legitimately say, "We were robbed". If they were able to say that, it would create a dangerous situation in Scotland. That is what I want to avoid.

6.24 p.m.


We have had a discussion on proportional representation. People feel strongly about it. I think it was my noble friend Lord Alport who said that some of the most distinguished minds in the country, both legal and constitutional, support proportional representation. Indeed, we have heard many of them today. I would only say that the views I give are entirely my own. I should like to be able to follow along those who have felt so strongly that proportional representation is the right thing, but I am bound to say that I share the doubts that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter expressed.

Proportional representation does not of itself mean that the result is better, or more democratic, or is more likely to give better government. It merely produces a different answer. In the end politics, whether it is Parliament or the Assembly, are about personalities and people. The Party machines play a vast and important part, but General Elections—and indeed I should have thought Assembly elections—should all be about electing a Member, although of course he is a member of a Party. Any form of proportional representation inevitably relegates to some degree the status of the Member and advances to some degree the status of the Party to which he belongs. Some may say that this is a reflection of what happens in life and therefore it is correct that it should be reflected in an Assembly. But I agreed with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter when he said that in an era when people criticise the super-influence of the Party machines, proportional representation will lend weight to that trend and not diminish it.

The system we have at the moment is tried, and it is known and understood. Any form of proportional representation is inevitably complicated, straining, as it does, to try and get hold of the perfect answer. That inevitably makes it difficult to understand. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn explained the Amendment and said that, if we found it difficult to understand, perhaps we could read it in the morning in Hansard.

Under the system which is suggested one inevitably—and I cannot see that one can do anything else—gets a system of first and second-class Members. You vote for a Member and then you vote for a Party. The Members are elected, and then you get the numbers made up by additional Members. The additional Members will presumably represent groups of constituencies and one wonders who then represents the constituents. Is it the constituency Members, or the additional Members? Perhaps it is a combination of both.

I could not help but agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, when he referred to the system of one man, one vote. I think it was only in 1949, or thereabouts, that we achieved this remarkable state of affairs when we had in this country one man, one vote. Of course under this system we are going to get one man with two votes, and in order to get over political problems in Scotland there will in fact be one man and three votes; one for the Member of the Assembly, one for the additional Member, and one for the Member of Parliament—whereas in England there are some people who get "one man and no vote", such as Members of your Lordships' House. Therefore, I cannot think that we are getting closer together; we seem to be getting further part. Of course, proportional representation inevitably leads in some form to coalitions. That is indeed what people want. That is what has been explained today.


Does the noble Earl realise that what he is doing now is to make the case for proportional representation? There is a split in the Conservative Party on this and, as we have noted, there is a split on this side of the Committee. So should he advance the case for proportional representation?


We did detect, I am bound to say, a significant split in the views that were mentioned from the Benches opposite because there were only two views that would portray it. Therefore it was not very difficult to discern that there was not total unanimity between them. I am sure that they will in turn be representative of the cross view that is taken in the Party opposite as well as indeed in our own Party.

I could not help but agree with something that the Lord President of the Council said, because one of the disadvantages of any form of coalition is that we get an arrangement between the Parties afterwards. What he said was that the very issues that were presented to the electorate one month were the issues that were to be denied the following month. This is, of course, foreign to our system. Proportional representation, I would suggest, therefore tends to fudge the issue and not give strong leadership. That is, of course, the argument why many people want it. Indeed, one can understand and accept that argument. But there are those who say that proportional representation should be for Scotland alone and that this would not have any effect at all on Westminster. Again I agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that this is possibly the thin end of the wedge, and for this reason: that if we do this we shall gradually undermine, in my view, the whole principle of the political system not only which we have got used to but which people understand, despite its idiosyncracies and aberrations. It has served us well.

This is the danger. If we have two systems operating in a big way—and this will be a big way in the United Kingdom—proportional representation for Scotland, and first-past-the-post for England, inevitably people will say "This one", whichever it may be, "is the better". That will encourage them to say that the other is therefore inferior, less good, ineffective or undemocratic. So there will be clamour to change either one of the systems.

If we introduce proportional representation for Scotland, I am bound to say that I cannot see there being a clamour for change, for it being brought about within 10 years, and so it will therefore be there for keeps. But we could get a situation where, if it works successfully for Scotland, efficiently, there would be those who would say, "Because it works for Scotland, it should be used for the United Kingdom". So we should get the state of affairs that if we introduce proportional representation in the Bill, and it is proved to be bad, then of course we should not have introduced it. But if we introduce it and it is proved to be good then the argument will go that there should be increased demands to change the United Kingdom system which, although it is in a totally different context, may nevertheless be ascribed or considered by many to be similar.

In conclusion, I see so well the arguments most persuasively put forward by noble Lords on all sides of the House with which one cannot help going along, with a great deal of sympathy. I conclude in my own mind that there is a real fear that if, for mathematical niceties and precisions, we introduce the new, complicated and untried system, we shall at the same time he undermining and damaging our own political institutions. Whether that is desirable or not, your Lordships will come to your own conclusions. But of course another place discussed this issue. They turned down proportional representation by a fairly substantial majority. I accept that the situation for Scotland may be peculiar to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said that this was a United Kingdom Bill. How this affects Scotland will inevitably affect the United Kingdom.

6.34 p.m.


The Committee stage is a time for putting personal experience which is relevant to what is being discussed. It was interesting to listen to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who gave his experience as to the single transferable vote. He came down very much against the single transferable vote from his actual experience. What does that confirm in one's mind? The suggestion as to whether or not we should alter our voting system is not new. It has been discussed and examined for years. My noble friend Lord Tranmire, who was the oldest serving Member in the other place until he left to join your Lordships, sat, as he said, four times on a Speaker's Conference. Each time they came out overwhelmingly against proportional representation. That has a significance that ought not to be overlooked. One recognises that it may have been Party considerations that caused it, but the fact is that the evidence from this impartial body on the occasions when he was present was overwhelmingly against proportional representation.

The Amendment suggests that we use the added list system as an alternative to the present system. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has said that he certainly would not want a single transferable vote.


Would the noble Lord give way? If I gave that impression I apologise to the Committee. What I want to be quite clear is that for a subordinate Parliament proportional representation is going, to be a vital product in the establishment of a good relationship between the two Executives in Whitehall and Edinburgh. If one was discussing which method, then I was very much in favour of the added Member system. But for a subordinate Parliament to establish good government for Scotland I am convinced that they must have some form of PR in order to establish those good relationships which I think are vital.


I did not misrepresent the noble Viscount. He has just confirmed what I said. He gave a dramatic description of how well your compaigning and single transferable vote all say the same thing, of the twisting and turning in order to be No. 1 on the sheet. He came down, as I understood it, very much against it. He said that he wanted proportional representation, and the alternative vote system, of which he has had no experience, may be the one that he would accept. It was King Midas who was called to judge two flautists. It was said that there were only two entrants on whom he had to give judgment. He heard the first one and gave the prize to the other. I merely wanted to say that we have evidence in this country where the additional list system seems to carry dangers and be very unsatisfactory.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Segal, is in his place. When he was the representative of Preston, it was a two-Member constituency. It was only afterwards that it was split into two constituencies. At the time the noble Lord was elected to another place there were two Members at the same vote. Later on I was brought in as a candidate. I saw the repercussions that flowed from that so far as my Party was concerned. We had the system during the war, when there was an electoral truce, in which people were not elected to Parliament. They entered Parliament under the truce. We had two Conservative Members for Preston at the same time. One died, and Mr. Randolph Churchill was, under the truce, not voted as the Member for Preston but was made the Member for Preston, and co-opted, which is similar, indeed identical, to the added list.


If the noble Lord will permit me, I wish to intervene merely for the record. Whereas it is quite true that I did sit in the 1945 Parliament as a Member for a two-Member constituency, during the actual Election time I was very grateful for a university vote. That was a completely antiquated procedure, which we all admit now. Otherwise I might have been completely disenfranchised.


I was hoping that the noble Lord would be my witness. I do not think his evidence fitted into the particular point that I wanted to make. All I can tell your Lordships now is that the truculence and unsatisfactory partnership—

Baroness BACON

I think that the noble Lord is misinforming the Committee. Is he saying that during the Election truce Members were not elected but they just came automatically to the House? That really is not so. Perhaps I could say to the benefit of the noble Lord, who is misinforming the Committee, that I was a Parliamentary candidate from 1940 to 1945. There was an Election in the constituency. I would have fought and a fascist stood against the Conservative candidate, and so the person had to be elected. It was only that there was an Election truce between the two political Parties, and one candidate stood down. But it did not mean to say that the Member was not elected.


That is precisely what I am saying. In my then constituency of Peterborough there was an election because the truce did not work, but in Preston the truce worked and Mr. Randolph Churchill took his seat not on the basis of being elected, not as a result of going through the ballot box, but in the way I described. The only point I wish to make, because it is relevant, is that the antipathy and truculence between the elected Member, who can say, "I am sent here by the votes of the people through the ballot box", and Randolph Churchill, who could not, hit the headlines, as noble Lords may remember, and the unsatisfactory nature of the representation at that time, because of that antipathy, was very real. I am saying that that is an example sufficiently near to the added list system for us to take it into account.

I am convinced that, if one had in a consituency, or in the Assembly, a Member who was elected on the votes of the people through the ballot box and somebody who got there because he or she was on a list and had not been personally elected, one would have first and second-class terms of representation, and that would not be good. Unless one can feel when one is representing a constituency that one truly has the mandate of the people, properly and clearly given by the people—not by Parties or groups who may set themselves up—I am certain that the sort of Parliamentary representation we have developed in this country will be that much weaker.

I see the attractiveness in theory of proportional representation; in theory, it is attractive. Indeed, it looks almost to be ideal, but I cannot see how it is possible to remove those other weaknesses, namely the weakness of the single transferable vote which my noble friend Lord Brookeborough mentioned and the weakness of the added list to which I have drawn attention. Thus, one is driven back to the point of having to think twice before changing a winning team. In other words, the system we have now has worked. It has its quirks and weaknesses, as it will no doubt have in future, but it has worked, and I believe that, before we think of changing it—thick or thin end of the wedge, whatever one likes to call it—we should recognise that it will be the beginning of a change for the United Kingdom if it is carried out in Scotland. I believe that the evidence so far is such that we in this Chamber should not consider recommending a change on the evidence we have heard so far.


Lord HUGHES: If I speak—


I defer to the noble Lord.


I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord. If I speak from this side of the House it has the effect of increasing the percentage of speakers from these Benches by 50 per cent.



I beg my noble friend's pardon; I should have said 33⅓ per cent. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ha ilsham of Saint Marylebone, who on any reckoning is a heavyweight, nevertheless in terms of numbers adds only about 5 per cent. to the number of speakers from the Benches opposite. I am anxious to make a few remarks because the effect of them is to emphasise a division on this side of the Committee, though, given what has happened on the Benches opposite, that does not matter a great deal.

I wish to point out at the outset that I am a strong supporter of the Bill. I support the Bill not because I believe it will guarantee for all time the unity of the United Kingdom but because I am firmly convinced that if there is not something like this Bill the unity of the United Kingdom will undoubtedly be in peril within the next decade. Having said that, I must go on to say that, when support the Amendment, I do so not because I am seeking to alter what I regard as a bad Bill but because I am seeking to improve what I believe is a necessary Bill.

Much has been said about the minority position which exists in the present Parliament, and that has been pointed out as if it were the first time it had happened. In fact, there has been only one General Election, if that, since the war when any Party had an actual majority of votes cast in the country. But the difference between the situation in the Westminster Parliament as it was in the past with a mainly two-Party system, and the situation that we are likely to have for perhaps five or 10 years in Scotland is a three or four-Party system, and what works reasonably effectively on a first-past-the-post basis with a two-Party system becomes a different horse altogether in a four-Party race.

Some noble Lords who have spoken against the Amendment—for example the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—emphasised that this may be the thin end of the wedge. I do not dispute that; it may be the thin end of the wedge, but it can become the wedge itself only if people this side of the Border want proportional representation. And if they want it, who are we of all people to say they should not have it? After all, I would certainly not venture to put forward the criticisms of the Party system in the added-Member vote system voiced by Lord Boyd-Carpenter because, if there are people who are not entitled to criticise the operation of a system under which the Party chooses people, they are surely Life Peers: we are here by reason of the Party system.

Not only that; we are here at the choice of certain people in the Parties. I would not suggest that it was the electors of Dundee who selected me to be a Life Peer. Hugh Gaitskell did that. There are others here who were chosen by Ted Heath and some more recently by Margaret Thatcher. That does not mean to say it is not a good system.

When people talk, as my noble friend Lord Leatherland did, about this being an untried system, we must remember that it is not untried; it has worked perfectly satisfactorily in Germany for many years. I must say right away that the fact that it works in Germany is no guarantee that it will work here; other things have worked in Germany which we should never have tolerated, so I do not argue that as a justification for it. However, I can say in truth that it is not untried.

If we are to look at the thin end of the wedge argument, we must see where it takes us. It means that, if we are not prepared to take the risk of proportional representation for the House of Commons, we must maintain uniformity and therefore the Assembly must have the same system as the Commons. But if we are to argue that, then we must give the Assembly the same rights as the Parties choose for themselves in the House of Commons. It is not just the Labour Party which works on the doctrine, "If it is in the manifesto and you get a majority of seats you have a mandate to carry it out". I guarantee that, if the next General Election results in Mrs. Thatcher becoming Prime Minister, she will not scrap her programme if she does not have 50 per cent. of the votes cast in the country; she will regard her mandate as arising from the number of seats she has in the House of Commons.

If we are to have equality of treatment between the method of election between the House of Commons and the Assembly, we must accord to the elected Members of the Assembly the same rights as the Parties claim in the House of Commons. And where does that take us? Noble Lords must remember that there is only one Party in Scotland that is for the break up of the United Kingdom, and that is the Scottish National Party. They have made it perfectly clear that they will regard a majority of seats in the House of Commons—36 out of the 71 seats—as a mandate to go ahead with their claim for complete separation. I suggest that inevitably they will say exactly the same in the Assembly; namely, if they have a majority of seats in the Assembly, they will say, "We have a mandate to press on for the next stage". I have no doubt whatever that, so far as the Scottish National Party are concerned, the Assembly is only the first stage on a road which I believe the great majority of people in Scotland do not want to take.

When the 40 per cent. figure was moved in the House of Commons, I regarded it as a wrecking Amendment, and I think it was intended as such. However, on reflection, I do not now object to it. Indeed, if an attempt was made in your Lordships' House to take that out of the Bill I should vote for it to be retained because, on a 75 per cent. or SO per cent. vote in Scotland—if we got that in the referendum—something in excess of 60 per cent. of the people of Scotland would have said that they wanted devolution. That is the answer to my noble friend Lord Wigg, whose philosophical treatise on the subject I much enjoyed. He pointed out that it does not matter what a majority in Parliament says; if people want something else, they will get it. Fortunately, in the Bill the opportunity is there for the people of Scotland to decide what they want.

I should now like to return to the merits of the Amendment. I believe that if the Assembly is successful, the Scottish National Party will diminish in importance election after election, and we may get back again to a system nearer the two-Party system. But probably for a decade ahead there will be substantial division, and, with an effectively three-Party system—or, if there is a Liberal revival, a four-Party system; but certainly a three-Party system—35 per cent. of the vote will deliver, on a first-past-the-post basis, an effective majority in the Assembly. Who is to say that that 35 per cent., under existing protest circumstances, is beyond the capabilities of the Scottish National Party? Alternatively, to look at it from the point of view of the Conservatives, who is to say that 35 per cent. would be a mandate for the Labour Party to carry through policies to which the other two Parties were totally opposed, and where 65 per cent. of the electorate had not supported them?

I do not join my noble friend Lord Leatherland in regarding the subsequent Amendment as a defect, because it seems to be reasonable that the Assembly should have the right to express a view about its own electoral procedures, subject to the safeguards included in that Amendment. But, until that is done, it is absolutely vital that the Assembly should not appear to become the implement of one Party carrying perhaps less than one-third of the votes, and, given even a 75 or 80 per cent. poll, with substantially less than a quarter of the people of Scotland behind it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough, said that the first objective of the Bill was to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. I agree wholeheartedly with that view. I believe that, if the Bill works, that will be its result. It if does not work, there is nothing we can do as an alternative which would stop the move to separation, which I believe would in the long run be the greatest disaster which could befall the people of Scotland. I am prepared to rely on the result of the referendum in due course to demonstrate that they will reject that alternative, whereas there is no guarantee, for instance, that the first-pastthe-post system in a by-election will achieve the same result.

6.54 p.m.


I apologise that there should be a third speech from the Opposition Front Bench. It is manifest that this is to be a free vote. It could hardly be anything else in view of what we have heard, and I believe it is no bad thing that Members of your Lordships' House should vote on this issue. But we must face the fact that the Commons had a free vote, too. Of course they voted on a different system from that proposed in the Amendment. If I remember aright, I think they voted on the STV. I interpreted that free vote, rightly or wrongly, as a fairly definite vote on the principle of a reformed system of voting for the Assembly. Therefore, as realistic people, I think we must also face the fact that when we have expressed our opinion, should it be in favour of the Amendment, it is quite unlikely to be endorsed in another place.

None the less, I think it is a good thing that we should take this matter to a Division, if only to record the individual views of Members of the Committee. Sitting as I do between my noble friend Lord Ferrers and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I recognise that I adopt a slightly intermediate position. To begin with, I should like to slaughter what I believe to be one or two sacred cows. I am not myself impressed with the "thin end of the wedge" argument. I believe that there are two quite different reasons for rejecting it.

The first is that we are going to have the thin end of the wedge in any case; do not make any mistake about that. I say this because, whatever else is certain, the European Parliament is not going to be elected on the first-past-the-post system; and not this time perhaps, but next time it will not be open to us to determine which method we are to adopt. The one thing which is quite certain is that it will not be our system. Therefore, the thin end of the wedge is going to be inserted fairly definitely anyhow.

Will it be a thin end of the wedge? I find it rather surprising that those who oppose change should think that it would be. After all, surely what is most likely to happen is this. If the system, whatever it is, succeeds, no doubt other people will want to extend it to the House of Commons. But if it fails, if—to adopt the rather charming coinage of Sir Richard Marsh—it produces a rather "shambolic" result, I hardly think that the wedge will be hammered in very much further. Therefore, whether or not it is treated as a precedent which we shall follow for the House of Commons will, after all, depend to some extent on whether the system, if adopted, succeeds.

I am a profound agnostic here, as noble Lords may recognise, but I must say that I regard the attempt at fairness in all these systems as the will-o'-the-wisp. Of course everybody is in favour of fairness, whatever it may mean. But there are, I think, 14 or 15 systems of voting adopted in different democratic countries, and they are all rotten until one looks at the others. Then one selects the system which, on the whole, one prefers. I remain impenitently of the view that so far as the House of Commons is concerned, our present system is best. I think so for two reasons, which I believe are not applicable to the Scottish Assembly, with respect, or to the European Assembly.

The first is that a Member represents a single constituency in the House of Commons, and the relationship between the Member and his constituency seems to me to be of value so great that it is worth preserving, at a very high cost if necessary. The second reason is that, despite its assumption that it is omnipotent, the main function of another place is to select the political colour of the Government of the day; that is its main purpose. I do not see, and, with respect to the Liberal Party, I never have seen, any reason at all to see anything objectionable in the largest organised minority controlling the Executive of the country. On the contrary, it seems to me to give precisely the element of decisiveness that I want to see in the executive government of the country. What I object to is their treating their presence there as a total mandate to carry out general legislation against the will of the majority. That is no function of an Executive and, with respect, it is no part of the function of a single Chamber which is elected on the first-pastthe-post system. I therefore remain impenitently of the view that I wish to preserve the present system in the House of Commons. I will now give way to the noble Lord.


By that does the noble and learned Lord mean that if a Government introduce a Bill, which is an obvious fiasco, to deal with the trade unions, they are not entitled to do so because they happen to be a Government without an absolute majority in the country?


What I would have said was that there is a need for a strong Second Chamber in such circumstances; but that would take me too far away from the Amendment which we are now discussing. What I should like to say is that in fact we must grow up to the point at which we cease to look for the ideal method of voting in all circumstances for all types of assembly. I regard that approach as an extremely naive and unsophisticated way of approaching this particular problem. I think, on the contrary, we have got to ask ourselves, "What is the function of the Assembly we are going to elect?", and also, "What is the nature of the population which is going to elect it?"

I do not regard fairness as a real issue here, because all the existing Parties, including the Liberal Party, with great respect to them, and the Scottish Nationalists, are in fact, in their present representation and organisation, the product of the electoral system we now have, and nobody can tell that they do not represent permanent minorities demanding representation in exact proportions. They are in fact the product of the system; and, if you adopt another system, probably all the existing Parties will disappear or give rise to other minorities. On the other hand, where you have strong permanent minorities—for instance, a population partly comprised of Roman Catholics and Partly of Protestants—it may be that they do demand a proportional system in preference to first-past-the-post. I do not believe it is possible to dogmatise and to say in advance, "This system is ideal and fair; that system is wrong and unfair". I think that is a pure will-o'-the-wisp.

That brings me to Scotland. The danger in Scotland, I think, must he examined in relation to the state of the Parties and of opinion in Scotland. As I see it, the state of the Parties and of opinion in Scotland is something like this. There are two national Parties, the Conservative and the Labour Parties. On 19 issues out of 20 they are at daggers drawn. They are not going to form a coalition. But they are united upon one issue, and that is that we want, both of us, to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom; and we almost certainly—I speak subject to correction—represent the great majority of the people of Scotland if you add us together. If you add the Liberals, too, as we have every right to do from what has been said from the Liberal Benches, we represent an overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland. Now there is a danger—it is undeniable that there is a danger—that in the state of opinion which exists, with the Conservatives and the Labour Party about equal and at daggers drawn, with the Liberals united with us both on this one point and with a Scottish National Party about equal in voting strength, so far as one can judge, as the Conservatives and the Labour Party, they might obtain a majority and use it against the will of the majority in the nation for the purpose of disrupting the United Kingdom.

I say this to the Government, that this is not a Party issue at all. It is well known that very distinguished members of my Party take a totally different view from that which I am now expressing; but I think that, at any rate on the first occasion the Assembly is elected—after that it may he a matter for them, but the first time—we, representing as we do (so far as we can honestly judge) the immense majority of the people of Scotland on the vital issue, have a right to see that they shall not in fact be represented by a majority of Members who do not represent their opinion on that vital point at all. Therefore, having expressed my view that this is, I believe, to some extent an academic issue, because I think almost certainly the House of Commons will repeat its expression of opinion on a free vote, I none the less come to the conclusion that in this particular instance, and not believing for a moment in proportional representation for the House of Commons at Westminster, we shall be running very grave risks if we reject it here.

7.5 p.m.


We have listened with interest to powerful and moderately presented arguments from all parts of the Committee, and if I present some of the arguments again I hope I shall not be accused of being uncompromising or intransigent. The system which has been put forward by those noble Lords who have moved and supported this Amendment is a system which is detailed in a number of other Amendments following on Amendment No. 2. I shall have to refer to some of the speeches made on those Amendments in replying to this debate, but let me make it plain at the outset that, so far as the Government are concerned, they will not seek to instruct their supporters to go into one particular Lobby. I say that with a certain humility, because I know that if I tried to instruct some of those who sit behind me I would not succeed in persuading them to follow me into a particular Lobby. It is perfectly clear that in the Bill the Government propose the first-past-the-post system. That, I can just mention, is clear from Clause 1(4). That applies in all elections bar the first election. The first election is slightly different because to introduce the system proposed for subsequent elections would cause unnecessary delay. Of course, this Amendment would not cause any delay, and I do not attack it at all upon that ground.

Let me suggest first of all that direct elections, first-past-the-post elections, do not necessarily produce a markedly non-proportional result, though of course I acknowledge that they can, and the Quebec example is a good example, perhaps, of how they can. May I perhaps just say this as I have mentioned Quebec. If under the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, the additional member system, one had a Quebec-type result, the position would be this. As I understand it, in Quebec 40 per cent. of the votes went to the Parti Quebecquois, and they got 70 per cent. of the seats. Under the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, if the SNP got 40 per cent. of the votes, as I understand is his apprehension, they would therefore get 70 per cent. of the 100 seats, and then they would get 40 per cent. of the remaining 50.




The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, shakes his head.


It does not work like that. The two are not in equilibrium; the number of votes that you have is not in equilibrium with the number of seats. The more seats you win in the constituencies the fewer the scats you will get of the remaining 50 per cent.—possibly none at all, as the noble Lord on the Liberal Front Bench says.


I am happy to be assured on that point. Proportional representation systems, to be workable, have to depart from perfect proportionality, and the system proposed here is a good example of that. As I understand it, two-thirds of the Assembly Members would be elected as ordinary constituency Members on a first-past-the-post system, and the one-third of additional Members elected on a PR basis would be elected on a strictly Party basis, excluding those Parties which did not win 5 per cent. of the votes. So there is already the 5 per cent. threshold which interferes with perfect proportionality. In a sense, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and others have acknowledged, these proposals are a compromise. They have been evolved to take account of practical considerations and of political possibilities; and I do not say that as a criticism at all. But we are not being asked to choose between a PR system which embodies perfect proportionality, on the one hand, and gives equal weight to every vote, and, on the other hand, the first-past-the-post system, which denies equal weight to every vote. We are dealing in each case with a mixture of arithmetical, equitable, political and other valid considerations. We must not lose sight of the political context and many noble Lords have reminded us of what the political context is. We must not lose sight of the way in which first-past-the-post has worked, and worked well, in the United Kingdom over a great many years.

May I mention—and I need not take up the time of the Committee at any length by doing so—some of the arguments 'against proportional representation. It is very likely to lead to a coalition, or the possibility of a coalition, and coalitions tend to be weak and unstable and they tend to be lacking in authority.


I am sorry to keep educating the Committee, but the Minister must know that there is proportional representation in the Republic of Eire, and there they have a strong majority Government. Here we have a first-past-the-post system and we have a minority Government in this country; so that the argument of the noble and learned Lord does not stand up.


I said that they tend to lead to that result but not that they always do so or that a different result is necessarily achieved under a different system. One tends to get weak coalitions and to get Parties elected without the power to implement the policies on which they fought the Election.

Another tendency is to put fairly small Parties with relatively small electoral support into powerful positions holding a balance between other Parties and so perhaps give to the smaller Parties a bargaining strength out of all proportion to their electoral support. The other point that I would mention is that the general case for proportional representation which has been spoken of in relation to this Amendment makes the implicit assumption that political Parties are themselves great monolithic institutions pursuing doctrinaire aims with unanimous internal support. That is not so. All the political Parties we know in this country are broad coalitions of people of the Left and of the Right, people who are reactionary or reforming, idealistic or scheming. They are just many varieties of people forming together to support one political Party.

There is another general point. The system of devolution proposed for Scotland under this Bill is itself an experiment. It involves many problems of a new and unprecedented character and it might be a pity to add to that experiment a new experiment in relation to the voting methods, with all the novel snags and problems which might arise and with no useful precedents in our political experience.

I echo what was said by other noble Lords, that the first-past-the-post system is

well tried and understood, that it has worked, and that it should not be abandoned except for the most compelling reasons. I know that at a later stage we shall come, as I understand the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and others, to look at the particular details of this system regardless of what may happen in any vote which may take place, so I will not take up the time of the Committee by looking at those details at the moment. Several noble Lords, however, specifically drew attention to the fact that the other place has repeatedly debated proportional representation in relation to different systems. I would remind the Committee that on each occasion when it has done so it has, by rather massive majorities, rejected any system of proportional representation.

Your Lordships may consider, along with the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and others, whether it is wise to send this matter back to the other place knowing that the almost certain position would be once again, for the reasons already given in relation to a system very like this one as well as to others, that that House will reject the Amendment made by this House. I cannot add—it would be vain of me to suppose that I could—to what has been said already, but I would remind the Committee that the Government's position is as stated in the Bill. There is a free vote and your Lordships will vote in accordance with what you judge of the debate.


I agree so entirely with what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham—that the Committee must divide.

7.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 155; Not-Contents, 64.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Baroness STEDMAN

I beg to move that this House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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