HL Deb 11 April 1978 vol 390 cc547-614

House again in Committee.

Clause I, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule I [Assembly constituencies]:

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 231:

Page 40, leave out lines 3 and 4.
The noble Lord said

I beg to move Amendment No. 231, which appears with a star, but it was, of course, handed in some days ago. It is the result of the printing troubles which makes it look as if it has only recently appeared among the Amendments. The question raised here is the task to be carried out by the Scottish Boundary Commission in forming new constituencies for the Assembly if and when it is established. This does not deal with the first election, but it comes up at this stage in the Bill because we are taking Schedule 1 in its natural place after Clause 1.

It is clear that this will he a considerable task for the Scottish Boundary Commission and it is bound to take them some time. They are due to divide up Scotland, as the Bill stands at present, into 150 completely new constituencies. They have criteria to observe which are contained in this part of the Schedule. Some of these are straightforward, and if I may refer to the one in paragraph 8, it says: Regard shall be had, so far as practicable, to the boundaries of local government areas. That, I think, is word for word the criterion required of the Scottish Boundary Commission in their review of Parliamentary constituencies for Westminster. If it is not, it is something very similar; that is, they have to take into account the boundaries of local government areas, but they do not need to be bound by them; they are not obliged to have to follow boundaries of local government.

But in lines 3 and 4, which I am seeking to take out, it is laid down that Each Assembly constituency shall be wholly comprised in one parliamentary constituency. As I understand it, that means that the Boundary Commission are obliged to make sure that every one of these new constituencies fits completely inside a Westminster constituency as it now exists, or as it may exist in the future if there are changes. The general reviews which the Scottish Boundary Commission undertake at present of all contituencies take place every so often. As I recall it, the Commission cannot undertake a general review in less than 10 years since their last one. On the other hand, they have to carry it out within 15 years. In the interim, the Boundary Commission can examine particular areas in certain circumstances.

When the Boundary Commission have this initial task, and when they have made a report, it is expected that the Assembly constituencies will be set out in a supplementary report, if I read this Schedule correctly; so that the Scottish Boundary Commission will be carrying out a general review of the Parliamentary constituencies for Westminster, and at the same time they will be carrying out the division of Scotland into 150 new constituencies and their recommendations on that will be in a supplementary report. I hope that the Government spokesman will correct me if I go wrong in interpreting the Schedule, but during subsequent general reviews it will produce a supplementary report making any recommendations that it wishes to put forward concerning the Scottish Assembly constituencies at the same time as it carries out the general review of the Westminster constituencies.

I am querying whether it is necessary to inhibit the Boundary Commission in such a way that it has to fit each of these new constituencies within one of the 71 Parliamentary constituencies. There are a number of important matters that it must bear in mind when it is considering what the constituencies should be, both for Westminster and for this new Assembly. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone summarised them in a previous debate. It has to take into account population and geography as well as the criteria of local government areas which I have mentioned.

It is still possible that the numbers of the Members of the Assembly will be reduced, because it is apparent from debates that have already taken place in your Lordships House that there are a number of Members who favour fewer than 150. The Royal Commission Report —the Kilbrandon Report—recommended that there should be 100 Members. It is clear from the debates which we have had in Committee on the method of electing Members that the question of the numbers has still been left open. From the point of view of the Bill being consistent at present, there are to be 100 or thereabouts elected Members and 50 added Members. However, it may well be decided at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill that 150 is too many and that the number should be reduced to something like 100. If that were to happen, it would be even more difficult for a Boundary Commission to try to fit 100 seats within 71 and make sure that there was no overlapping and that every one of the 100 new constituencies fitted within one of the 71 Parliamentary constituencies. That would make its task even more difficult and restrict its discretion.

Therefore, I ask the Government: is there any particular reason why they have, in this Bill, stipulated that each Assembly constituency shall be wholly comprised within a Parliamentary constituency? I do not at first sight see any reason why there should be that relationship. If it is thought desirable, then could not the wording be similar to paragraph 8 —that is, not obligatory but proposing that the Boundary Commission should have regard, so far as practicable, to the boundaries of the Westminster constituencies. That would certainly give it far more latitude than paragraph 6 lines 3 and 4 as they now stand.

Therefore, the two points that I should like the Government to answer arc first, what is the reason for trying to fit each of these constituencies within a single Parliamentary constituency at all; and secondly, if there is some desirability, and we are persuaded that there is a point in it, would it not be better to put it in the words that are used in relation to local government areas and make the Boundary Commission take that into account, but not restrict it in this way?

I should like to raise the question of timing because I think that this is the moment to raise that matter. It seems that the Boundary Commission is left to carry out this operation as part of its next general review. However, again if I have misread the Bill the Government will, I hope, inform me. The last report from the Scottish Boundary Commission was produced in about 1969. One of my noble friends, in fact, produced the date June 1969 earlier today in another debate and I have no reason to dissent from that. That was certainly about the time when the last general review was completed and a report submitted. I think that that means that the Scottish Boundary Commission is able, from a date 10 years after that—if it wishes—to start its next review.

It would mean that by about the middle of 1979 the Boundary Commission could start its review of Westminster constituencies. Moreover, as soon as this Bill has been passed, and if it were then accepted by a referendum and enacted, the Boundary Commission could go ahead with the job of dividing Scotland into these new Assembly constituencies. Again, if I have interpreted the Schedule correctly, it would produce a supplementary report on that matter, but I should like to ask the noble Lord whether that is the position. There seems to be nothing in the Bill which indicates that there should be a special separate operation undertaken by the Scottish Boundary Commission starting immediately the Bill is enacted. I am therefore assuming that the Government are simply leaving it to be carried out at the same time as the general review which is due to start in 1979 or which can start then after the 10-year interval.

I hope that when replying to the Amendment and explaining why the Government have put lines 3 and 4 into the Bill, the Government will also either now or at a later opportunity when discussing this Schedule, inform us about the time of when they see the Scottish Boundary Commission carrying out this task which, as I have said, I quite understand may take some time—perhaps two or three years to complete.

8.28 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I have tabled the next Amendment, but perhaps I can speak to this Amendment which substantially covers the same point. We have had some discussion this evening on the subject of fair representation. It seems to me that Schedule I, Part II, is much too restricting. It is important to remember that this is the permanent system and not just the initial system which has to be hurried; this is the permanent system which will be in operation. As my noble friend has pointed out, it will operate only 10 to 15 years; that is to say, at fairly long intervals.

It is clear that it is anticipated that if the rules of Part II are observed it will he pretty rough justice, because it looks as though they are quite prepared for constituencies to he 125 per cent. above the average. At least at the beginning—not at the end of 10 years, because there may be movement of population of one kind or another—can we not start on an even basis? Should Schedule I not directly be guided towards a fair distribution at the beginning of the 10 years period?.

I think that it is worth recalling that the voting at the last Election in Scotland was extremely close. I think I am correct in saying that there were only five Members out of 71 who were, in fact, elected by a majority of the voters. In other words, if I am correct in my mathematics, the remaining 66 had a majority of people voting against them rather than for them. That means that the voting is very close. Therefore, it surely becomes all the more important that at the beginning of this period the populations should fairly closely resemble each other in number.

Perhaps I may state the position. The matter of the 125 per cent. is rather odd. If we had proportional representation, I do not think that it will apply so much. Perhaps I may give some simple mathematics. If a constituency has more than 125 per cent. of the electoral quota, you divide that by three, which gives 41. On the other hand, if the figure is 120 per cent. instead of 125 per cent., you divide that by two, which gives 60 per cent. That means that there is a 50 per cent. difference between the lower and higher range.

I want to make the point that this is the beginning of the period and that during this 10 years there will he population movements both in an out. In other words, the disparity is likely to become greater. I should like to suggest that at the beginning of this period the division of numbers should be much closer than is anticipated by this Schedule. One of the quite clear reasons which causes the disparity is the tying of the Parliamentary constituencies to Scottish local constituencies. Is that necessary? I can understand that as it relates to local government because this is an administrative area and makes sense.

What is a Parliamentary constituency? It has only one point of union and that is the Member of Parliament; otherwise there is no union at all. There is no administration or association; there is nothing except the Member of Parliament. Therefore, is it necessary to include these first two lines which, according to later paragraphs of the Schedule, mean that they are totally inflexible and cannot be altered. That produces very sharp disparities which I think the Government recognise.

Perhaps I could give the facts. Taking the position of 125 per cent., we shall certainly have four constituencies—the noble Lord put it at five but it depends on the number taken—but if we drop to 120 per cent., we then have 10 constituencies. In other words, there are 10 constituencies which fall, by only 2,000 or 3,000 votes, below the 125 per cent. That is a disparity which, quite clearly, will reflect itself in a sharp difference in the number of representatives who will be returned. I suggest that certainly the first two lines should be omitted. Is it really asking too much that this Schedule should be written with the object of ensuring that the number of voters in each voting constituency should, as near as may be, be as even as possible? I hope that the Government will consider this matter closely because in a very closely contested constituency it shows a lack of intention to get the numbers fairly even.


The principle that the Government have followed in writing this Schedule in the terms in which it is written is that, for entirely practical reasons of administrative convenience, Parliamentary constituencies should form the basis for Assembly constituencies. I accept that this argument was accepted in a different context by the noble Lords, Lord Drumalbyn and Lord Blake, when they spoke to the general Amendment on proportional representation which the Committee accepted last week. However, I accept that that relates to that particular context. That Amendment, accepted by this Committee, is founded on the principle of creating Assembly constituencies within the existing Parliamentary boundaries.

In my submission it is only practical to keep the two types of constituency boundary contiguous. In the Government's view, departure from this principle would have certain effects. First, it would tend to confuse the voters who are accustomed to Parliamentary constituencies, and, indeed, would tend to detract from the unity of a particular area as a Parliamentary constituency. It would also needlessly complicate such matters as the Party organisations. I want to stress that point because I think that the Committee would accept that the existence of Party organisations is extremely important for the healthy functioning of our democracy.

The Party organisations are built round the Parliamentary constituency in local areas and it would be a great pity if Party organisations—some of which are financially and otherwise stretched and very thin on the ground—were required to regroup and form entirely different organisations for Assembly constituencies, particularly when one remembers that other elections have to be fought, whether regional or perhaps for the European Assembly. Therefore, I cannot overemphasise the importance of not making matters impossibly difficult for the Party organisations which serve democracy in this country.

Perhaps I could revert for a moment to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, last Tuesday. As I read the system—and I hope that I now understand it—which is described in that and subsequent Amendments, that does not diminish the role of Parties. Indeed, in a sense the role of Parties is perhaps even more important because of the approved Party list and matters of that kind. I think that I can derive some support—although I recognise the different context —for my view and submission in relation to the importance of Party organisations and not unduly complicating matters for them. Therefore, that is the answer. It is an entirely practical one.

I accept, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, that because one goes from a constituency with two Members to a constituency with three, at the border-line one will necessarily get some quite material difference between the number of electors required to elect one Member in each of these constituencies. But, of course, if one goes in what must be described as fairly crude steps from a two-Member constituency to a three-Member constituency, that is inevitable. I submit that that is the price that one has to pay in order to preserve the Party organisations and not to make life impossibly difficult for them in conducting that essential part of our democracy.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that the numbers in the Assembly have been left open. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, made clear, and as I accepted, the Government's position is that we have not prejudiced ourselves over that; the matter is being looked at. It is only in that sense that the matter is left open. Of course, so far as the Bill is concerned, in effect the Amendments write in the Amendments proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.

As to the matter of timing, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked me a question. I think that he is right in his reading of it. I cannot be absolutely certain because unfortunately the 1949 Act, which 1 had this afternoon, has disappeared. I should like to consult it before I give him an answer. Therefore, I shall take advantage of his kind offer and return to the matter later and try to answer him. However, I urge the Committee to accept my proposition, that for practical reasons and accepting that the price must be paid, it is a price that is worth paying.

Viscount THURSO

We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for bringing this matter to our notice and also to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, for the very clear way in which he has explained the Government's point of view and reasoning. I think that there is a slight problem here. I agree with the Government that as far as possible the object of the exercise should be to make any of these confusing constituencies as co-terminus as possible: the Parliamentary, the Assembly, the European and the local Government constituencies—as far as possible every possible constituency should retain various local identities.

I was very impressed with the noble and learned Lord's argument about the identity of Party because, after all, by our PR Amendment, which your Lordships' Committee has accepted, we are introducing the element of Party into the election area in a wider sense. We shall come to that in a later Amendment. Therefore, I am impressed by the Government's arguments on this. However, I take the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that there may be moments when Boundary Commissions are reporting and elections are taking place at different times, when it may be difficult to maintain boundaries exactly as laid down in the initial stages after the passing of the Bill, if it is passed. I am slightly inclined to believe that the phrase,"so far as practicable" would be good to include if the Government could find it acceptable, because there may be moments when it is not practicable. One does not want to make the law unduly difficult.


I think that any lawyer looking at the words "so far as practicable" would appreciate that what is practicable may not be reasonably practicable. Perhaps I should put it the other way round. It may be that it is perfectly practicable to divide Scotland into 100 different constituencies, but one would depart very much indeed from the existing boundaries of the 71 constituencies.

Viscount THURSO

I agree that we do not want to depart unreasonably from existing boundaries. I am only asking whether the noble and learned Lord will look at this problem and consider, between now and Report stage, whether there is indeed a problem that could be covered by a form of words.

May I refer to what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. If we are to accept a percentage of a constituency vote, as indeed we have done already in various Amendments accepted by your Lordships' Committee, then obviously we have to work with like-shaped constituencies, otherwise the meaning of the Amendments we have already accepted is not clear. Therefore, from these Benches we support the Government in what they have said but we would ask them to look at what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said to see what force there is in the arguments he has adduced.

8.42 p.m.


May I make a point which the noble and learned Lord may be able to answer now, or perhaps on the next occasion. It seems quite remarkable that we have in quite a short period of time reached such an enormous spread in the size of constituencies as to have 21,000 in Glasgow Central and 97,000 in Midlothian. That is quite extraordinary. Is it contemplated that this will be put right by the next Boundary Commission? Obviously, it will get out of phase a bit in time, but one cannot help feeling that on the last occasion the Commission may have taken a rather limited view of what was practicable in order to get such an astonishing result as this. One of these constituencies is in the centre of a town, where one would have thought it could quite easily have been added to another constituency or divided between several. The other is an amalgam of what one might call suburban areas. It is a quite extraordinary difference.

One can understand the smallness of some electorates such as Orkney and Shetland, with 28,000, and the Western Isles, with 23,000, but to have enormous constituencies such as I have mentioned side by side with these seems to be quite extraordinary. I hope that it will be possible to even them out. Even constituencies in the 70,000-bracket cannot easily he evened out by the method that is proposed in the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. This gives a 110 per cent. level of a constituency of average size, and two Members over and above 110 per cent; nor would it have been changed very much—certainly in many cases not for the better—by the original suggestion put down by the Government, which would, as I understand it, have given two Members for all the constituencies, including Glasgow Central, and three for the larger constituencies.


I do not think that I can answer for the Boundary Commission. I have a difficult enough task getting through from 3 o'clock to II answering for the Government. The noble Lord will appreciate that the ground rules for the operation of the Boundary Commission are laid down by the statute that I referred to. We must await their report. I share his surprise that one gets these disparities, but no doubt this kind of thing can happen over a period of time when one considers the different economic and other circumstances prevailing in areas such as these.

The Earl of PERTH

I am puzzled by the situation we have got to in Schedule 1, Part II. I well understand the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. However, it seems to me that either you remove paragraph 6 and let 7, 8 and 9 stand, or you leave in paragraph 6 and leave out 7 and 8, because it appears to me that there is a contradiction here. Quite simply, paragraph 6 says: Each Assembly constituency shall be wholly comprised in one parliamentary constituency.". Then that is qualified in some sort of form in 7 and 8 by using the words"so far as practicable ". Then we learn that that means nothing. It seems to me that the Government should consider whether they want to leave in paragraph 6 and then go to paragraph 9, or whether they should take out 6, as has been suggested in the Amendment, and leave the rest. It seems to me, reading it at this moment, that the two things are contradictory, but maybe I am wrong.


I wonder whether the noble Earl is giving full weight to lines 6 and 7? They contain the words, comprised in the same parliamentary constituency.".

The Earl of PERTH

I think I am because you have laid down an absolute rule in 6 which states that:. Each Assembly constituency shall be wholly comprised in one parliamentary constituency". And that is that. If that is what you have laid down, then surely 7 and 8 are completely unnecessary, and you should go to No. 9.


As I was reading this—and I hope I shall be corrected at least from the Box if I am wrong—what is envisaged under paragraph 7 is that, if you have a three-Member constituency and there are 90,000 electors, then each Assembly constituency shall, so far as is practicable, have 30,000 electors. But that may be qualified because of paragraph 8, because you have regard, so far as practicable, to the boundaries of local government areas.

Viscount THURSO

Have we not agreed that there will not be three-Member constituencies? Have we not agreed in Amendments already passed that there are only to be two-Member constituencies?


Yes indeed: I was only using the example for the purposes of an arithmetical demonstration.

8.47 p.m.


I am grateful to those who have taken part in this brief debate, and also to the Minister for his explanation, because otherwise there was no way in which we could tell why this was in the Bill. May I summarise. He has said that it is for administrative convenience, and also to make it as easy as possible for the electorate to understand the areas which are covered for Parliamentary elections, for the Assembly elections, and also for local government elections. I certainly accept those as reasons which have some weight.

The noble and learned Lord was particularly frank in saying that the question of Party organisations was also very much in the Government's mind. Again, from the practical point of view, I accept that Party organisations are at present in Scotland on a constituency basis, and that, with voluntary organisations operating in this field, it is going to make life difficult if there are other constituencies which cut across the boundaries. But I am again glad that the noble and learned Lord told us that because otherwise we had no reason to understand why it was there.

I should like again to put this point to the noble and learned Lord: we are giving the Scottish Boundary Commission a difficult jigsaw puzzle to do, because, with all these restricting factors, it is going to be exceedingly hard for them to try to produce an answer. In the first place, they have the problem of trying to balance population with geography. That is to say, some constituencies cover enormous areas and do not have much in the way of population, while others have very densely populated areas. Then, we have the local government boundaries, to which I have referred.

I should like to draw attention to the fact that paragraph 8 says only,"Regard should be had so far as practicable", so it gives the Boundary Commission plenty of latitude. In paragraphs 10 and 11 even more latitude is given. It is spelled out that the Boundary Commission does not need to pay as much attention at it otherwise would, even to paragraph 8, in certain circumstances, in order to avoid excessive disparities. It is being given a certain amount of latitude on local government boundaries. As the noble and learned Lord pointed out, paragraph 7 requires it, so far as possible, where a constituency is being divided into two, to cut it in half, so that the population is divided into two, still taking local government boundaries into consideration.

On top of that I would inform all those South of the Border who do not necessarily know this, that at present in Scotland Parliamentary constituencies and local government boundaries do not coincide in large areas of Scotland. I have not done any research. I know, only from my own knowledge of various areas, that as a result of the reform of local government there are many cases in Scotland where the Parliamentary constituency boundaries now do not coincide with local government boundaries. They did not do so in the past before the reform of local government because the Boundary Commission had this discretion to take this into account, but it was not obliged to follow the local government boundary.

We are asking the Scottish Boundary Commission to do an almost impossible task if it is to try to meet all these requirements and is not given some more latitude, because on top of that it now has this completely new, not discretion but obligation, to place each of these new Assembly constituencies within one of the existing 1971 Parliamentary constituencies. I agree that it is possible—no doubt it has been gone into with the representative of the Scottish Boundary Commission—to fit 150 into 71, even with all these restrictions. However, if we were to move to 100 I think it would be virtually impossible to place that obligation upon it.

I hope very much that the Government at a later stage will agree to relax the wording of lines 3 and 4, paragraph 6, so that they follow the wording of paragraph 8, and that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, also suggested, they give the Boundary Commission discretion rather than place it under an obligation. I accept that the arguments he gave earlier do have some weight. I refer to his arguments about simplicity, so far as any of these things can be simple; secondly, administrative convenience; and thirdly, the Party organisations. I accept that there is weight in the reasons he gave. However, I think that it would be better to give the Scottish Boundary Commission discretion to have regard to this, so far as is reasonable and practicable, whichever wording is thought best, rather than place this upon it as an absolute obligation. Certainly, if the number of seats is reduced, this would have to be done, otherwise I can see the Scottish Boundary Commission coming to the Government's door and saying, "You are telling us to do something that is impossible."


Does the noble Lord not think that if we were to confer upon the Boundary Commission the kind of discretion that these words would confer upon it, we shall make its task much more difficult? At the moment it starts off with a map with 71 constituencies, and with 71 difficult tasks inside each constituency, so the difficulty arises 71 times, perhaps. But if the Boundary Commission is given a discretion to divide Scotland into 71 constituencies, or whatever the number may be, and can depart from the existing structure, does that not require it to redraw the whole map of Scotland for the purposes of Assembly constituencies, and does that not make its task much more difficult?.

Viscount THURSOrose—


I shall give way later. It is rather difficult if one has two interventions. No; because I think that it would still be regarded by the Boundary Commission as its primary duty to try to fit these new constituencies inside the 71. As far as possible it would do so. But where it found that it could not do that without running counter to all the other criteria here, including trying to get the electorate fairly even, in those cases it should have some discretion.

For example, let us take the case mentioned by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. 1 cannot remember the exact figure, but the figure for Central Glasgow is about 20,000. It is very small. If that is not changed in the coming review the one thing that the Boundary Commission would be landed with is the fact that there is a very small constituency which would probably have to be one or two of the new Assembly constituencies, because there is very little it can do with that 20,000. It must either be one or two. That is paragraph 6. One hopes that in the next review the Boundary Commission will suggest radical changes of the kind that my noble friend said were necessary, so that we should not have constituencies as small as that. That is an example of restrictions. With such a small number of electors the Commission would be stuck with having to make exactly one or two.

However, I do agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is desirable for the reasons that he gave for the Commission to try as far as possible to fit them within the 71. But I do not think that it would make it more difficult if this wording were relaxed, because it would not apply to all the constituencies. The Commission would not have to redraw the whole lot. It would redraw where it thought it was necessary for the 71, and then, as far as possible, it would try and fit the new Assembly constituencies within that. When the Commission found that it could not observe all the criteria, and it was going to produce a nonsense, it would have discretion not to have to follow this precisely.

That is what I suggest. I think that if the numbers were reduced from 150 it would have a problem.

Lord DRUMALBYN rose—


I was trying to be courteous in giving way to the noble Viscount first, because I said I would.

Viscount THURSO

While agreeing and being persuaded by the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, on his reasons for wanting to lay things down in this way, I ask him again to look at the wording of this, because my mind casts itself back to the discussion earlier this evening when we were talking about the possibility of 56 Members of Parliament for Westminster or 60 Members of Parliament for Westminster, and so forth. It may very well be that in the future a Boundary Commission may have to redraw constituencies from the 71 to some other figure. I do not choose any figure, but it would be some figure other than 71 or 72, or whatever it may be at the moment. If it had to do that, it might well do it in such a way that it coincided with an Election date for Members of Parliament to come to Westminster. It would then be necessary immediately to redraw the constituencies within the Assembly area, and this might be extremely difficult.

There should be an element of flexibility left so that the Boundary Commission is able to take this kind of problem into account if it should arise. It seems to me that with the present wording there is a lack of such flexibility. I accept the general arguments of the noble and learned Lord and of the Government, but I ask them to look at the possibility of wording this particular part of the Schedule slightly more flexibly.

9 p.m.


I gave way to the noble Viscount because I understood he wished to raise a point on which I was touching at that moment. But he has brought in this additional matter, the fact that the figure of 71 is not sacrosanct, as we know from a previous debate, and it might change in the future. That is certainly another consideration which should be borne in mind, but I believe that trying to put, for example, 100 new Assembly constituencies, so that each of them fits exactly inside 71, would be a difficult operation to give the Boundary Commission; 150 will be easier, but it will still be difficult with all the other matters that they have to take into account.


I wonder whether my noble friend perhaps feels that this might not be quite so difficult as it may appear at first sight. He will see from the opening provision of the Schedule that the Boundary Commission has to report"at the same time ". To my mind, that would inevitably mean that they would be looking at the two problems at the same time and together, and therefore it is a question of a double adjustment of the jigsaw, so to speak. I am not certain that I altogether agree with my noble friend that there should be latitude in going outside the single boundaries of the Parliamentary constituencies. I think it would be possible for them to adjust the Parliamentary constituencies with a view subsequently to dividing them as necessary —or sub-dividing them, if one prefers to put it that way—into the Assembly constitutencies. I should have thought it could all be taken as one operation.


I took that into account in my opening remarks, and when moving the Amendment I said that my interpretation of the Bill—the noble and learned Lord confirmed this—was that when the periodical reviews were carried out of the whole of Scotland by the Boundary Commission (in not fewer than every 10 years and not more than every 15) they would be providing a supplementary report which would cover the Assembly constituencies, and therefore I understood that they would be doing both jobs at the same time.

The Scottish Boundary Commission are governed at present in making recommendations about the Westminster constituencies by certain criteria which are clearly laid down. They give them discretion where local government boundaries are concerned, but they must take many other things into account. But one of the things which they are not expected to take into account at present is these new constituency boundaries, so there is something of a problem. They would obviously use their good sense, but they are not required to take this into account. If they were, in their next review, to be making recommendations about changes in the 1971 Parliamentary constituencies, I very much hope there would be a recommendation to remove the anomaly of the 21,000, but if they were making recommendations which were influenced simply by the new Assembly constituencies, I feel they would be going outwith their terms of reference because that is not written into their remit.

However, it could be in the future and I agree with my noble friend that for obvious practical reasons one hopes that the Boundary Commission in doing this job will have both sets of constituencies in mind when they are recommending where a boundary should in future come. I would only say to Lord Drumalbyn that if he were a member of the Boundary Commission and the number of constituencies under the Bill was 100 instead of 150, he might find he had quite a problem trying to fit them into 71 in the way it would be necessary if this were obligatory.

I am glad we have aired this question. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving us a first indication, as he has in this debate, as to the reasons which have caused the Government to make this obligatory in the Bill. I cannot say I agree, but I recognise the reasons; I would give the Boundary Commission discretion so that in certain circumstances they did not have to follow the Parliamentary constituency boundary, and I hope the Government will look at that.


I can now confirm that his understanding in the question the noble Lord asked me—the second point he raised—is correct.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for confirming that and for having obtained the necessary Statute, which apparently disappeared during the dinner adjournment. He confirms the timing; that is, that the Government are expecting, if the Bill is passed and is then endorsed by the referendum, the Scottish Boundary Commission to carry out this task as part of its normal periodical review, which they can start on in 1979.

Returning to the Amendment point about removing paragraph (6), my view is that it will make life unnecessarily difficult for the Scottish Boundary Commission with 150 members of the Assembly and that, if there were to be 100 Members of the Assembly, it would make life almost impossible for them. I hope the Government will take that into account and I reserve my position, perhaps to table an Amendment which would be in the terms of "having regard to" this desirability "so far as practicable" on the lines of paragraph (8). From the debate so far, that would be my preference, unless the Government can persuade me otherwise. In the meantime, I shall return with an Amendment on those lines on Report.


I do not want to prolong the argument or seek a reply to this suggestion, but I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that there is a time-honoured way to resolve disputes about whether or not to give discretion. The usual form which this takes, which must be familiar to all noble Lords, is to say, "You shall observe these rules, but you may obtain dispensation by seeking permission from a higher body", in this case Parliament. That would be one way out of it; the discretion is not given but there is a loophole for the seeking of permission to disregard the rule by taking the matter to Parliament, either to the Assembly or Westminster, I do not know which.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


In calling Amendment No. 27, 1 have to advise your Lordships that if it is approved, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I do not propose to move Amendment No. 27.

9.8 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 28:.

Page 40, line 12, leave out ("125") and insert ("110").

The noble Earl said: Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 are consequential upon Amendment No. 8 which we accepted last week. I beg to move.


May I make one remark about this only because The Times newspaper misreported on the front page last Wednesday what happened in this House in relation to this matter. The Government position here is that these Amendments are accepted entirely without prejudice to the whole reconsideration of the proper numbers. That was made plain on the Parliamentary page of The Times, but on the front page it was wrong. For that reason only I emphasise the Government's position.


The noble and learned Lord is entirely justified in making that point clear. Of course it was made absolutely clear and at the time this was accepted subject to the Government's reconsideration of the whole problem.

on Question, Amendment agreed to.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 29: Page 40, line 12, leave out ("three ") and insert ("two ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 40, line 14, leave out ("two Assembly constituencies ") and insert ("one Assembly constituency ").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I am advised that, instead of calling Amendment No. 33, I should now call Manuscript Amendment No. 294.

Lord DRUMALBYN moved Manuscript Amendment No. 294:

Page 41, line 25, at end insert—



15.—(1) No person shall be eligible to be elected as an additional member unless his name was listed as an adopted list candidate at the ordinary election concerned. (2) No party shall be an eligible party so as to be eligible for allocation of additional member seats to its adopted list candidates under this Schedule unless it secured 5 per cent. or more of the total of all party votes validly cast at the ordinary election concerned. 16. The process of election of additional members shall be as follows:

  1. (1) The number of additional members to be returned at the ordinary election concerned shall be ascertained in accordance with section 1 of this Act.
  2. (2) The constituencies at the first ordinary election shall be grouped into eight Electoral Regions in accordance with Part VI of this Schedule and the initial additional members prescribed by section 1(5) of this Act shall be allocated between the Electoral Regions as shown in Part VI of this Schedule.
  3. (3) The number, group and allocation of additional members at ordinary elections other than at the first ordinary election shall be those prescribed by this Schedule subject to amendments under section 1(7) of this Act.
  4. (4) In the event of any change in the number of constituencies after the first ordinary election the automatic increases or decreases in the number of additional members provided for by section 1(6) of this Act shall be allocated between the Electoral Regions so that as a result the aggregate of the additional members and the constituency members for each Electoral Region shall as between the Electoral Regions be proportional to the respective electorates of each Electoral Region at the ordinary election concerned.
  5. (5) Priority lists showing the priority as between adopted list candidates shall be democratically drawn up by each party for each Electoral Region and shall not contain more names than there are additional member seats to be allocated at the ordinary election concerned to the Electoral Region concerned. A person standing for election as a constituency member may be eligible for inclusion on one or more of his party's priority lists.
  6. (6) The valid party votes cast at the ordinary election concerned for each eligible party in each Electoral Region shall be added and the total in each case divided by the sum (called the denominator sum) of the number of candidates of each eligible party returned as constituency members at that election for each Electoral Region plus one.
  7. (7) The results of the calculations made in sub-paragraph (6) of this paragraph shall 568 be compared and the first person to be elected an additional member in each Electoral Region shall be the first candidate on the relevant priority list of the eligible party obtaining the highest number as a result of those calculations who is not already a member.
  8. (8) The calculations made in sub-paragraph (6) of this paragraph shall be repeated after adding the additional member elected in each Electoral Region in accordance with sub-paragraph (7) of this paragraph to the relevant denominator sum of the eligible party of which he was an adopted candidate.
  9. (9) The results of the calculations made in sub-paragraph (8) of this paragraph shall be compared and the next persons respectively to be elected additional members for each Electoral Region shall be the first candidates.
  10. (10) The remaining additional members shall be elected one by one by application of the same system of calculation and election to each Electoral Region as is prescribed in the preceding sub-paragraphs of this paragraph.
  11. (11) In this paragraph 'party' means a political party whose principal objects include the adoption of candidates for election to the Scottish Assembly.
  12. (12) Her Majesty may by Order in Council make regulations for the drawing up and publication of priority lists by parties and the form of the ballot paper to be used for ordinary elections to the Assembly under this part of this Act but no recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty in Council to make such an Order until a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.



17.—(1) The constituencies at the first ordinary elections shall be grouped into Electoral Regions as follows—

Central Scotland—Dunfermline, Fife Central; Fife East; Kirkaldy; Stirling; Falkirk and Grangemouth; Stirlingshire East and Clackmannan; West Lothian.

Clydeside North—Glasgow Central; Garscadden; Hillhead; Kelvingrove; Maryhill; Provan; Queens Park; Shettleston; Springburn; East Dumbartonshire.

Clydeside South—Glasgow Cathcart; Craigton; Govan; Pollock; Rutherglen; East Kilbride; Hamilton; Renfrewshire East; Renfrewshire West.

Highlands and Islands—Argyll; Banffshire; Caithness and Sutherland; Inverness; Kinross and West Perthshire; Moray and Nairn; Perth and East Perthshire; Orkney and Shetland; Ross and Cromarty; Western Isles.

North East Scotland—Aberdeen North; Aberdeen South; Aberdeenshire East; Aberdeenshire West; Dundee East; Dundee West; North Angus and Mearns; South Angus.

South East Scotland—Edinburgh Central; East, North, South, West; Leith; Midlothian; Pentlands; Berwick and East Lothian.

South West Scotland and Borders—Ayr; North Ayrshire and Bute; Central Ayrshire; South Ayrshire; Dumfries; Galloway; Kilmarnock; Lanark; Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles.

Clyde—Bothwell; Coatbridge and Airdrie; Dunbartonshire Central; Dunbartonshire West; Greenock and Port Glasgow; Motherwell; North Lanarkshire; Paisley.

(2) The additional members allocated to the respective Electoral Regions shall be as follows—

Electoral Region Constituency Seats Additional Seats Total
Central Scotland 14 + 6 20
Clyde 12 + 6 18
Clydeside North 11 + 7 18
Clydeside South 13 + 7 20
Highlands and Islands 13 + 4 17
North East Scotland 12 + 6 18
South East Scotland 12 + 8 20
South West Scotland and Borders 13 + 6 19
100 50 150")

The noble Lord said

I should like to start with an apology that I was not able to get this Amendment down in time to appear in the Marshalled List. The main change as between what is called a Manuscript Amendment and the original text in the Marshalled List is the inclusion of paragraph 17(1) which shows the way in which the constituencies in the electoral region are grouped together. This was done in response to requests I have received, so I hope this meets the requirements of the House. There were one or two other minor changes and the opportunity was taken to make them, and I daresay that there may be some deficiency still. I really do know how to spell Kirkcaldy which does not appear correctly in the manuscript.

I hope your Lordships will permit me to spend a little time on this, as it is very difficult to compress an explanation as to how this system will work; if your Lordships are interested perhaps I may be allowed to go through it. The Amendment sets out the proposed arrangement for the election of the additional Member; that is, the Party Member. Noble Lords will recall that initially there would be 50 additional Members—that is, half the number of constituency Members—and that in subsequent elections the number of additional Members would continue to be half the number of constituency Members, whatever that might be, rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Paragraph 16 deals with the election of Party candidates. Sub-paragraph (1) provides that to be eligible for election an additional Party candidate's name must appear on a Party list. Sub-paragraph (2) provides that no additional candidate is eligible unless the Party on whose list his name appears obtains 5 per cent. of the total of all valid votes cast for that Party. The first stage after the count is to determine the total number of Party votes in Scotland as a whole. The 5 per cent. is known as the threshold. It applies in West Germany and has had the effect of excluding the smaller Parties, for example, the neo-Nazi Party, which at one time in 1969 polled as many as 4.3 per cent.

Paragraph 16 deals with the allocation of Party seats as between eligible Party candidates. Party candidates are to he allocated on a regional basis, and it is proposed that there should be eight regions. The advantage of apportioning additional candidates on a regional basis, rather than on a national basis, as proposed in the Commons, is that those elected will have a regional base, with all that that implies in regard to representation of regional interests.

It may be thought that if there are to be regions for the purpose of Assembly elections, the existing local authority regions should be used, but the disadvantage of using the local authority regions lies in the vast disparity in the size of the regions, even apart from the island areas. The system of allocating seats for additional members would be the same if the allocation was done on the basis of local authority legions, but the outcome would be less equitable and less satisfactory for the purpose in hand; that is to say, to secure representation of Parties in the Assembly as nearly as possible in proportion to votes cast in the election.

The grouping has been done in such a way as to secure that the electorates in each of the regions is roughly equal. All except one would contain between 450,000 and 500,000 electors, the exception being of course the Highlands and Island region, which would have about 375,000 electors. The number of additional Members for each region is determined in such a way as to result in the combined total of constituency Members and Party Members in each region representing approximately 25,000 electors. It would be very close to that in all the regions, except again in the Highland region, where each elected Member and Party Member would represent 22,000.

These calculations of course take into account the Amendment just moved by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, giving two Members to constituencies with more than 110 per cent. of the norm. These figures show how very much closer we would come to achieving the ideal of one vote, one value—and here I am sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in his place—on the additional Member system; far closer than on the first-past-the-post system, where the size of the electorates varies, as I said earlier, from 21,000 in Glasgow Central, to over 97,000 in Midlothian. So the value of a vote in Glasgow Central is nearly five times greater, at the present time, than it is in Midlothian. Even under the Bill as introduced the value of a vote in Central Glasgow would be more than three times the value of a vote in Midlothian. Even if the Government insist on retaining the first-past-the-post system, they could surely devise a more equitable scheme than the one that is proposed in the original Bill.

Sub-paragraph (5) indicates the way in which Parties are to draw up the lists of candidates for each electoral region. Each list must not contain more names than there are seats to be filled in the region. In order to prevent the Party caucuses at national level from dictating the lists for each region, it is provided that the lists should be drawn up democratically. That implies some means of selection, or election by democractic processes. But it is not intended that there should be rules laid down prescribing a single process—although that is done in West Germany—any more than at the present time there are common rules for the election of officers and executives of trade unions. They simply have to comply with equitable principles. In this country that is a matter that is thought proper for the Parties themselves to settle, though no doubt an opportunity should be given to all paid-up members of a Party to play some part in the selection.

Sub-paragraphs (6) to (10) provide for the allocation of additional Member seats between the candidates. This is nothing like as complicated as, for example, football pools. Very briefly, they provide that the number of Party votes for the region should be added up and divided by the number of constituency seats won by each Party in the region, plus one. The first seat then goes to the Party with the highest average votes per successful constituency candidate, plus one—the one being added of course to cover the case of a Party which has in fact won no seats in that region. But, of course, each qualifying Party is credited with an extra seat for the purposes of the calculations. The Party which wins the first seat then has that seat added to its number of constituency seats; and the process is repeated with all the additional seats until all the additional seats are allocated. It really is remarkably simple. The process favours the Party with the most votes, but only to a small extent. Broadly speaking, the outcome is that the numbers of seats, constituency and Party combined, are allocated in proportion to the votes cast, with this slight advantage to the Party which gets most votes.

Sub-paragraph (11) gives a very broad definition of a political Party, so that, as in France, any group can form itself into a Party for the purposes of an election. An example is what I think is called the Green Party—the environmentalists—in France. That is not to say that it will necessarily win any Party seats. Sub-paragraph (12) provides for Her Majesty in Council to make regulations for the drawing up of regional Party lists and for the form of the ballot paper, which, as I explained at Second Reading, would contain two parts on the same sheet of paper, one containing the names of the constituency candidates and the other the Parties and the Party candidates. Where there was only one constituency Member to be elected, the elector would put one cross against the name of the constituency candidate of his choice and one cross against the Party of his choice. Where there were two or more constituency candidates, he could of course put two or more crosses against the names of his two preferred candidates as well as against his preferred Party.

Turning to Part VI, that defines the composition of the electoral regions and sets out the number of additional seats to be allocated to each region. It does not much matter what the names of the electoral regions are: it is sufficient that they should make geographical sense, and I hope that they will not offend any susceptibilities. If they do, the names can readily he altered to meet the wishes of the Committee. It would be more difficult to change the composition of the electoral regions by transferring constituencies from one electoral region to another, for that would be likely to affect the numerical balance between the electoral regions and, in consequence, the fairness of the system. It would have been possible to leave the demarcation of electoral regions to the Boundary Commission, but I believe that would have required amendment of the Act of 1949.

I see no reason to provide at this stage for local inquiries into the grouping of constituencies into electoral regions, although, of course, any alteration of Parliamentary constituency boundaries after the first election might involve marginal adjustments in the composition of the electoral regions. In any case, it seemed reasonable to show your Lordships how the system would work out on the ground, so to speak; and, indeed, I have, as I have already said, been pressed to spell out the composition of the electoral regions. Hence this revised Amendment.

The Committee will observe that some of the names originally proposed for the electoral regions have been changed. Clearly, "Highlands" was an inadequate description of an electoral region including the Western Isles constituency and the Orkney and Shetland constituency. Similarly, one could hardly describe an electoral region as "Lothian" when it did not contain all the Lothians, but included Berwickshire. Then, "South West Scotland" did not quite meet the case of an electoral region which included Roxburgh, Peebles and Selkirk. That is why it is called "South West Scotland and Borders"; and if it is objected that Berwickshire is part of the Borders, then perhaps the best description of the South West Scotland and Borders electoral region would be "South Scotland".

Anomalies are hound to exist in any choice of name, but since it is not sensible to base electoral regions on local authority regions there is a good deal to be said for giving the electoral regions distinctive names which are quite different from the local authority names, so that there will be no confusion between the two systems. The alternative would be to call them all electoral areas if that was thought proper and so distinguish them further. I am afraid that that is a lengthy explanation but I think it would have been a little difficult to have given a shorter one that would have meant very much to your Lordships. I only hope that what I have said meant something. I beg to move.


I wonder whether it would be helpful to the Committee if I were to indicate briefly the Government's attitude. First, the Amendment is regarded as consequential on the Amendment made following the voting last Tuesday. Secondly, we have looked carefully at the manuscript Amendment and we have one or two points of detail but I would not think it worth while taking up the time of the Committee to look at those points because I propose to write to Lord Drumalbyn suggesting to him that the way he has done it might possibly be improved. I say this with the greatest of respect. Otherwise, I have nothing to say. I hope that, if other noble Lords feel that they can follow that example, we can make progress with a lot of detail tonight, so that when we return afresh with a full Committee tomorrow we can launch on to more important matters, perhaps, than some of the detail we have to cover this evening.

9.26 p.m.


Nobody could understand the problems of proportional representation better than my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. I tried to follow him, but I got lost after a while with the problem. I was not one who supported PR and I was glad to have had the explanation, even if it was difficult to follow. Of course, it is mostly due to the mathematical niceties which, in a way, is the drawback of the system. I am slightly concerned because I moved some Amendments the other day the object of which was to reduce the size of the Assembly from 150 to 100. One had the acceptance and concurrence of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and many others to reduce the Assembly to this figure of 100. Now, to use Lord Wigg's phrase, "Pussy's woken up" and the size of the Assembly has gone back from 100 to 150 if we take into account the additional Members which are going to be included.

I wonder whether my noble friend, on reflection, might consider reducing the size of the Assembly at Report stage to what we had originally intended which is that it should be 100. We find ourselves in the curious situation that, for better or worse, I had moved some Amendments which I thought suitable to bring down the size of the Assembly to 100 because it was too big. My noble friend supported it not, because he thought it was too big but because he wanted proportional representation. The Government supported it, not because they wanted it or wanted proportional representation but because of the axiomatic situation whereby your Lordships had decided to put PR into the Bill—which was something they did not want. The result is that the size of the Assembly has now jumped back to that which everyone agreed apparently it should not be.

The noble and learned Lord shakes his head. I accept the fact that he agreed to that Amendment subject to the Government's own reservations. One or two matters puzzle me slightly and perhaps my noble friend could explain them. I am sure he is clear about them, but I am not. If one is standing as a candidate for a seat in a marginal constituency, the chances are that one will not get elected.

Of course, if one stands on the Party list—and some people might describe that as being a Party hack—one would get elected. This seems to be a disadvantage of the system. If one is on the Party list one gets in, but if one stands as a representative of the people one might not get in. One wonders to whom these Party Members will be responsible. Do they have constituents or do they share them? Do they have any involvement with the electorate or not? If my noble friend will explain that, I would find it helpful. It seems to me that there are some people who could get into the Assembly simply by virtue of being on the Party list with no connection with the electorate at all.


May I answer my noble friend's question without going into the disappointment of his having had my support on an Amendment and finding that the result was not what he expected. As to the man who stands in a marginal constituency, Part IV of the Bill allows a person who contests the constituency also to appear on the Party list. There is little danger that there would be any confusion over this. The man who stood for a constituency might well do so in a case where he was very unlikely to win that constituency, and then, when the adjustment came back on the basis of the regional system, he would perhaps be top of the list for election under the regional priority.

This leads into the second point: whether or not there is any involvement with electors. One of the reasons why a person who was unlikely to get elected but nevertheless wanted to get in and asked his Party to put him high on the list, would be precisely in order to get the maximum involvement with the electors. But apart from that, one has to remember that in order to get on to the Party list he has to be well known to the electors in that region or get himself known. This is one of the advantages of the regional system over the national system. Then I have no doubt he would help candidates in the regional area and appear on a great many electoral platforms.

I do not think that there is danger that the Party candidates will not be know n to the regions that they represent. It is true that one argument in favour of having Party lists is that they might include people who would be unlikely on their own to get elected as constituency Members but might nevertheless make a very valuable contribution as Members of the Assembly. These arguments cut across each other to some extent. The fact remains that there are these possibilities open.

I hope that I have corrected my noble friend's idea that it is only Party hacks who will get elected on to the Party lists. I am quite certain that it will be very difficult to get on to those lists, and that the Parties themselves will make sure that the people who are put on those lists are thoroughly well known in the region, otherwise they will not get so many Party votes.


May I ask my noble friend something about this? 1 am obviously more knowledgeable about the Highlands region, and he probably realises that very often people who are put forward are not desperately attached to any particular Party. They happen to be very well known and probably very useful people. It would be a great pity, so far as we are concerned in the Highlands region, if those people had to be tied to one particular Party. I gather from what he says that that does not necessarily happen.


If the noble Lord is asking whether they have to be tied to a Party, they must be tied to a Party in order to appear on the Party list. That means they have to assign themselves to a Party or form a Party. Any group of people could fight. Let us say there were six electoral Party seats in the electoral region: you could quite easily get six people together who were birds of a leather in some way or other and who were prepared to stand under some particular label. For the purposes of this scheme, that would come under the definition of "Party", as defined in the Amendment. But by and large, to be elected as an independent one would have to stand as an independent.


The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, gave a very comprehensive answer to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but I should like to add just one further point because it seemed to me that the noble Earl was suggesting that if you stood in a marginal constituency that was very chancy and you might not get in; but if you got on the list you would get in. That does not follow at all, because it might well be that your own Party, in the other seats in your region, had got its proportionate number of seats and therefore you might not be elected at all although you were top of the list. So that is chancy as well, but the result is proportionate.


I wonder whether I might just go on from the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cromartie. I was going to put two points to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn which I think require clarification at this stage. First of all, there are two votes for each elector and there is an ordinary constituency election for 100 of the proposed Members. It is there, presumably, that an independent would have to stand. That is important, because there is this 5 per cent, threshold It is not just a question of forming a Party, which could consist of only three or four people, for the purpose of the additional Member system list; but there is this 5 per cent. threshold which means that the Party which gets less than 5 per cent. of the whole vote is not going to get an additional Member—one of the 50—at all.

I just want to ask my noble friend to confirm that there is no difficulty about an independent, or somebody from a very small Party which could not possibly get 5 per cent. of the total vote, standing in the constituency election and being elected in his own name. But he would not have much chance, if he is a man on his own or in a very small Party, of getting anywhere among the "additional Member"50. So if I may take up the point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Cromartie, there is nothing to stop an independent from standing in the normal way for a straightforward election in one of the 100 constituencies but he has not really got much hope, on his own, of getting anywhere on the list of the 50. I am sure that my noble friend will tell me if I have got it wrong, but I do think that it is the threshold of 5 per cent. which is the important point here and the limiting one.

The other point I wanted to raise, arising from the debate we have just heard about the Scottish Boundary Commission and the application of Part II of the Schedule, is this. After the first election has taken place under this system there will be simply 100 constituencies where the elections take place. Therefore there will be the problem of having to fit 100 constituencies, under the system which the noble Lord has put forward, into exactly 71 Parliamentary constituencies. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has given it as his opinion that another place will probably reject this system anyway and send it back to us. But if they were not to do so, and if this system were to go into the Bill, I hope that my noble friend recognises that the Boundary Commission would then have the problem, under this Schedule, not of 150 constituencies but of 100 constituencies. If, as I am assuming, this Schedule is to apply in the case of this system, then after the first election the Scottish Boundary Commission will be expected to delineate 100 new constituencies for the Assembly, as opposed to 150.


I am much obliged to my noble friend. I am glad that he emphasised the business of the two votes, because although the explanation of the calculations is extremely complicated, the voting is extremely simple. You just have a list on the right-hand side of the paper and another list on the left-hand side, and in a one-seat constituency you cast one vote for the candidate on one side of the sheet, and one for the Party on the other side of the sheet, which includes the Party lists. Of course, the threshold applies to the votes for the Party candidates and not to the votes for the constituency candidates. Certainly, an independent can stand in a constituency election, and he may do better under this system than he has been doing in recent years under the present Parliamentary election system. It is a long time since we had an Independent Member. He generally has to call himself something and join a Party in order to get elected, even though he may be very independent after that.

The question of the 100 constituencies enables me to reply at the same time to my noble friend Lord Ferrers. My noble friend Lord Campbell will realise that, at the present time, the number of constituency candidates is 100 in the 71 constituencies, and the figure is brought up from 71 to 100 by the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. It happens to work out in that way. In other words, by putting the threshold at 110 you bring up the numbers. I think that this depends a little on whether or not you bring in the under-18s at the last electoral count. But this is a detail on which I hope to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, because it is a subject which it is difficult for me to determine.

I do not see that there would be any difficulty about this. It would require a greater number of constituencies—say, 100—to appear in the groups of regional electorates. There would then be 100, instead of the present 71. But my noble friend will have seen against some of those constituencies in the lists the number 2, which means that at the present time they supply two candidates. It would not make any difference to the number of candidates. If your Lordships were to decide to reduce the number—perhaps to one Member—to be elected for each existing constituency, this would be something which I should rather deplore, because of the enormous difference in the value of the vote. If we could reduce the difference between the 21,000-electors constituency and the 98,000-electors constituency, that would be a good thing. Therefore, if you were going to do that, you would need to have your 100 constituency base and not your 71 constituency base. But under Parts V, VI and VII of the Amendment you would have 36 additional members instead of 50—that is, those drawn from Party lists— because under the Amendment it will always be one half of the number of constituency Members. If, therefore, my noble friend were to make such a change, that would bring one back again to approximately 100, or a little more, instead of 150. In other words, instead of 100 plus 50, it would be 71 plus 36. Does that answer my noble friend's question?


I think that it goes some way towards answering the question which I asked. My noble friend said that the number of seats went up to 100 because of my Amendment. This is perfectly true. However, the purpose of my original Amendment was to curtail the size of the Assembly. What I am not absolutely certain about is whether my noble friend's adherence to this system requires an Assembly of 150 Members, or whether he would be quite happy if the membership of the whole of the Assembly amounted to 100 and also whether an Amendment made at the Report stage to bring down the Assembly to 100 would meet with his approval, even if it did not meet with the approval of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey.


As I have indicated, the great disadvantage of doing this would be that one would have not only some very large constituencies with only one Member but also some very small constituencies. Unless and until the Boundary Commission changes the constituency areas, I should find it difficult to agree that the numbers ought to be brought down to 71—at this first election, at any rate. It might be difficult to have a smaller number of Assembly Members after the second election than it would be after the first. I should find it difficult to support an Amendment moved by my noble friend to retain the present system of one Member per constituency so long as the constituencies remain as they are at present.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, sits down, may 1 say to him that I do not believe he has yet answered one of the questions put to him earlier by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers; namely, what precisely will be the duties of the additional Members? Is there not a danger that the additional Member system will effectively, if unwittingly, lead to the formation of first and second class Assembly Members, the second-class ones being the ordinary constituency members who will have all of the normal constituency duties to shoulder—which are frequently burdensome and time consuming—the first-class Members being the additional Members who, while being paid exactly the same salaries as the constituency members, will have vastly more time on their hands in which to earn a profitable living—to write, to speak, to appear on radio, television and so on? Is not this system likely to lead to a great deal of tension within the Assembly and thereby hinder its effective working?


Could I comment on this matter? I have been listening to this view emerging gradually from one or two noble Lords who have spoken tonight. It seems to me that what is being overlooked is that the interests and activities of a constituency Member of Parliament, whether he be at Westminster or at the Assembly, are one thing while the activities of somebody who is looking after a whole region are quite another. Would it not be extremely advantageous for this country to have not only constituency MPs but regional MPs? They would introduce a wider view into Parliament or into the Assembly. I believe that they would have a pronounced effect, just as Members of Parliament in Germany have had an effect upon reducing the polarisation that exists between the political Parties, a factor which I deplore in this country.

Baroness SEEAR

May I remind your Lordships' Committee that a slightly modified version of this system, as the noble Lord, Lord Brown, has said, has been operating for a long time in Germany and that Professor Ralf Dahrendorf, who was a Member of Parliament on a Party list, has assured me that he never felt that he was second class.


May I thank my noble friend for replying to the points which I raised. Since this is the last debate that we shall have on this set of Amendments, because this is the last Amendment in which my noble friend has explained the system, for the others are simply consequential Amendments, I think we must establish that as we are leaving the Bill with this system written into it there will be 150 Members but only 100 constituencies. So that we are back to the 100 constituencies that I mentioned and therefore the problems for the Scottish Boundary Commission after the first election, and so on. But, as it has now been accepted, with the combination of these Amendments and the Government's acquiescence, we shall be continuing with this Bill with the concept of 159 Members but only 100 constituencies—


I think it would be a little more accurate to say that it would be only 100 constituency Members because there are still 71 constituencies, some of which will have two Members.


After the next Election.


That is right, after the next Election. With regard to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, it is very difficult to say, and I think here one can only rely on the experience of Germany where the two kinds of Members, the additional Members and the constituency Members, have worked very well together. It is particularly valuable there because they are all in Lands and I think the basis of the allocation is on the Lands system although for the purposes of numbers it is actually calculated on the whole country. An allocation is made between Lands and that is how the additional Members are allotted.

I agree very much that there is a real place for added Members of this kind. I do not know whether one would call thcmfirst class or second class. Traditionally in this country and speaking as a former Member of Parliament, the most valuable basis that you had was your constituency correspondence. I believe that in this country, at any rate for a long time to come, the constituency Member will remain the first-class Member. Curiously enough, I have always heard the criticism made from the other side and I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Secar, automatically assumed that it would be the added Members who would be the second-class Members. I am quite certain that there will be no lack of work for either of them and I agree entirely that this will help to bring the whole Assembly together. If this Assembly is created, there is a real chance that it will be a far more intimate body and will work much more closely together than it is possible to do in an assembly of the size of our present House of Commons.


I think my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has been a little too quick in saying how carefully the Parties will select their candidates for the additional Members. I should like to remind him of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, and I intend absolutely no slur on him in referring to this. He lost his seat in 1964 and was rather foisted on the people of Leytonstone and they rejected him at a by-election specially prepared for him. That was an expensive mistake for a Government with a very small majority, and I think the disciplining of losing that seat would not have occurred under this system.


I wonder whether my noble friend is not confusing the two kinds of Members. It would, of course, still be possible for somebody to lose a seat as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, did. I see no reason why that should be impossible, although I believe he was previously the sitting Member and he lost the seat. That would always be possible in any direct elections of any kind. If by any chance my noble friend is thinking in terms of a sitting constituency Member also being on the Party list, that is another question. That would be a matter for the Party to decide, and I am sure it would be very careful indeed in what order it made up the Party list for the purposes of the elections.


In fact, I was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, subsequently losing the by-election which was specially prepared for him.


Again, I really do not think one can make any comparisons of that sort. This could perfectly easily apply at a by-election at any time to a constituency seat. It could perfectly easily happen that a Member of the Executive lost his seat in an election his Party was nevertheless returned to power and he then stood at the next by-election and lost that. That could happen to any Member of Parliament at any time and to any Member of the Assembly.


Arising out of that point, can the noble Lord explain to us what does happen with regard to by-elections, because, reading this pamphlet about the German system, I understand that they do not have by-elections. Whether it be a constituency member or a list member who dies or disappears for any reason, I believe his place is filled automatically from the list. Under the system proposed in this Amendment, would the noble Lord envisage by-elections or would he envisage the German system operating?


The intention is that the first person on the regional list who stood at the previous election but was not elected would be offered the place of someone who had been an additional Member in the course of the election, was elected and then subsequently retired, or died, or whatever. The man at the top of the list of those not elected would then be invited to take his place, and if he declined to do so the next man would be asked and so on. In most of the regions there should be quite a scope to refuse and to leave it for the next man on the list. Where there are very few added Members on a list, as for example on the Highlands and Islands list, it might be difficult, and we may have to consider an Amendment to enable this to be done.


Is this not covered by Amendment No. 64 to Clause 5, so that, if we want to discuss that, we may do so when we reach that Amendment?


In that case, I have explained it now.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Time of election and term of office of members of Assembly]:

[Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 not moved.].

10.2 p.m.

Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL moved Amendment No. 36: Page 2, line 17, leave out ("fourth") and insert ("fifth").

The noble Lord said

My noble friend suggested that I might move this Amendment on his behalf. This is a point which crops up in a number of guises in the next few Amendments and it concerns the relationship between the electoral terms of the Assembly and the Westminster Parliament and, indeed, the term of office of the Assembly itself. My noble friend's Amendment is really simply an excuse to ask the Government why it was that they chose a four-year fixed election as the norm.

I do not think there is any need at this juncture for us to raise the question of the right of dissolution, which will crop up in a few minutes under subsequent Amendments. The worry being suggested here is the matter of getting out of phase with Westminster. For example, if one had a Conservative Westminster Government—which some of us hope will happen before too long—which was devoted to the cause of cutting back public expenditure, and a Labour-dominated Assembly, one would clearly be producing a formula for disagreement and strife. The question therefore arises whether it is the wish to keep the two Assemblies in phase. If it is, clearly, neither of these Amendments is right. However, we should like to know what was the Government's motivation in choosing a four-year fixed term and whether they still think, on reflection, that that is the right thing for the Assembly. I beg to move.


I should like to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, who has moved the Amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and to explain that the Government consider that a fixed term is entirely appropriate for a subordinate Assembly with delimited and defined, although important, responsibilities.

I agree that the actual length of the fixed term is a matter of judgment—it can be no more than that. When the Bill was discussed in the other place, both three years and five years were mentioned. However, in the Government's view, three years could be too short a term in which to develop adequately particular policies on which an Administration was elected, and five years could be too long an interval before the Scottish electorate was given a fresh opportunity to make its judgment upon the Assembly Members.

As the noble Lord said himself, it is true that the Bill provides for premature dissolution of the Assembly. We shall perhaps talk about that later. However, this clause is designed to meet a crisis of the kind in which the First Secretary's Administration is unable to continue and no alternative Administration can be found within the existing Assembly. Of course, in those circumstances, the new Administration would have a life for only the remainder of the fixed term. That breaks the absolute inflexibility of the fixed term to meet difficult circumstances, and I quite agree with that.

However, the Government are firmly of the view that, for normal circumstances, a fixed term of four years seems to be appropriate and is, perhaps, least open to the kind of objections that I touched upon just now. Those are the reasons behind the Government's view.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for that brief explanation. As I have said, there are a number of other issues which can easily be involved, but I suggest that we leave them until we have discussed them under the various other Amendments which are coming up. I am grateful to the noble Lord and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I must advise your Lordships that if Amendment No. 38 is agreed, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 40 and 41.


Would it be convenient to my noble friend Lord Gray if we discuss Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 together with his Amendment?


I am happy to fall in with whatever may be the wishes of the Committee, and I am certainly quite ready to agree to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn.

Lord GRAY moved Amendment No. 38: Page 2, line 19, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said

There have been many references in our debates to provisions in the Bill that may lead to discord between Westminster and Edinburgh. I believe that Clause 2(2), to which my Amendment is directed, is just such a provision. Clause 2 fixes the normal life of an Assembly, as we have just heard, at four years with termly elections on the third Thursday in March every fifth year. Those elections are to be called by the Secretary of State for Scotland who is required, in calling them, to lay a draft order for approval before both Houses of Parliament. The clause is not concerned with premature dissolution—that is dealt with in Clause 3. So far so good.

However, Clause 2(2), which is the subsection that my Amendment touches, gives the Secretary of State power to advance or postpone an ordinary Assembly election by two months. However, it does not require him to obtain Parliamentary approval for doing so. Thus a Secretary of State could avoid carrying out a duty which is specifically laid on him by this clause, or he could overrule a decision of Parliament. Amendment No. 44, standing in the name of my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, if accepted, will make the implementation of the power in subsection (2), about which I am talking, subject to Parliamentary approval. I think that that would be a minimum condition for the survival of the subsection, but that is not the only point that I wish to make.

I hope that the Government, through the Minister who will reply, will tell the Committee about the thinking—and we have heard about the careful thinking behind every provision in the Bill—behind subsection (2), and when and why they envisage that it will be used or needed. I shall not jump to any nasty conclusions, and there is perhaps little reason to be concerned that political use would be made of the powers, although we must of course never forget that future Governments are not bound by the opinions of this Committee or the intentions of the present Government.

Superficially, there may not appear to be much political mileage in the subsection (2) power, but later on I want to focus attention on the exact nature and extent of that power. I believe that we may reasonably suppose that subsection (2) is in the clause in order to cater for emergency situations or administrative considerations. Be that so, perhaps we should consider whether, provided that the power is made subject to Parliamentary approval, the provisions are appropriate or even adequate. I take note of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn just now and I do not wish to anticipate what my noble friend may say. But I can perhaps see a case for the proposal in one of his Amendments to extend the power to postpone an ordinary election of the Assembly by another month, although I cannot see why any case could be made for bringing forward an election by three months.

Having referred to emergency situations, I would ask the Committee to look at them with me. I assume that in the event of a United Kingdom or Great Britain emergency, existing emergency powers legislation would provide the means of catering for a necessary postponement of an Assembly election. But would that be so in the case of a purely Scottish emergency? I wonder whether the Minister who will reply can tell me about this. Would it be dealt with under this provision or, if not, under the existing emergency powers legislation?.

I want also to look at what I referred to as administrative considerations that could perhaps call in aid the power in subsection (2). Obviously these could vary from anything such as extreme weather conditions to probably the trickiest situation of all, a possible clash between a Parliamentary election and an Assembly election. It would obviously be highly undesirable to have not just a direct clash but even a near miss. I do not have to speculate about what Parliament considers as the proper course in such an instance, whether it arose through Prime Ministerial choice or the fall of a Government.

I look upon the prospect that in the event of a clash subsection (2) would be used to shorten the life of an Assembly not just as undesirable but as slightly ridiculous, but it could be done since there is nothing that I can see in the Bill which says what time has to elapse between the order made by the Secretary of State advancing the election and the date on which that election should take place. There would not merely be no time for a campaign by Assembly candidates but what there was of such a campaign could be used—quite inappropriately—as a dummy run for a General Election. In the event of an electoral clash, I can envisage the Assembly election being postponed, but I wonder whether a two-month postponement would be enough. In some circumstances I think it would not. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply for the Government can tell us what the Government thinking is on this.

I have said that I can see a case for a power for postponement subject to the reservations I have mentioned, but I have not been able to find in my thinking about the subsection any case for having a power to advance the date of the election, since the emergency situation of an Assembly dissolving itself prematurely is already dealt with in the Bill in Clauses 2 and 3.

Finally, I wish to return to a question which I mentioned earlier. What is the exact extent and nature of the power in subsection (2)? I do not think it is what it appears to be. If noble Lords will look at subsection (2), they will see at line 21 that it says:. The Secretary of State may … appoint as a day for the holding of the election a day not more than two months earlier nor more than two months later than the day on which the election would he held apart from the order.". Superficially, that looks like a power limited to two months either way; but is it? I am very unsure on this.

The words at the end of line 23 and the beginning of line 24 are as follows: … the day on which the election would be held apart from the order. It is not "the day on which the election would normally have been held". Is it the Government's intention that there should be a power to postpone an election, and postpone it again, and postpone it again? I think that that is in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will either deny this, so that we may agree to put it right, or perhaps explain to me why I am wrong. I beg to move.

10.16 p.m.


I agree with my noble friend that one must have some kind of provision to give elasticity here. One can never foretell what is going to happen. To that extent I am sure we require something in the Bill to deal with that matter. So far as I can see, the only reason for holding an election earlier than the due date would be that the Executive no longer had the support of the Assembly. If so, the sooner it was held the better. It certainly could not have anything to do with the holding of a Parliamentary General Election because it would hardly be possible for the Secretary of State to say in December, "I am expecting a Parliamentary Election in March or April so we had better have the ordinary election a couple of months earlier". This would, so to speak, be "blowing the gaff" in a big way. If there is the power to hold the election earlier, I am not certain what the procedure is. Is my noble friend right in saying that an order cannot even be opposed by Negative Resolution under the Bill?.

I see the difficulties, because a Negative Resolution would have to be opposed within 28 days, and by that time the election would probably be over. I do not know what the Government have in mind here. I quite appreciate that in an emergency we might want to have it two months earlier, and it could be carried through Parliament in one day with the greatest of ease. But I find it difficult to see why we should want to have it two months earlier in any circumstances. Perhaps my noble friend can make that clear. The only circumstance I can see is a breakdown in the running of the Assembly.

As to the question of holding the election later, I think that there is more to be said for a rather longer time, for these reasons. If an ordinary election was due in mid-March and needed to be postponed—because, for example, the General Election was to be called in February or because of national mourning, a national emergency, or a breakdown in law and order—it would surely be desirable to postpone it for more than two months until after the local elections in May. It would then be difficult to hold it. That is perhaps the limiting case, or the extreme case, but we must consider the extreme case. It would be difficult to hold it in April, and it would be difficult to postpone it for only one month.

I see more reason, therefore, for a postponement of up to three months than I do for bringing in an election earlier, and making provision for an earlier election. Two months might suffice for an earlier election. However, on the other hand, if we made the period three months, we should be making it a little easier to deal with the case where a dissolution was pending. We would know the time of the dissolution, and then we could bring forward the election two weeks, two months, three months, even four months, in order to fill the gap between the time when the breakdown in the Assembly took place—or if the Government resigned, or whatever it was, if there was a dissolution—and the normal date in March.

For my part I should be quite willing to give a little more elasticity there, although I fully realise the difficulty in that the Government would be accused of manipulation if they did it too obviously. However, as I say, if there had already been a Resolution for a dissolution it might well be that there would be some justification for holding the election more than two months before the due date.


I listened with considerable interest to the very pertinent points put by both noble Lords. From past experience I deem it prudent to consider in some detail the points that they have made. Indeed, I am willing to give consideration to the very effective points just made. However, I enter a caveat. At this stage the Government do not accept that there is more than one option under Clause 2(2). We are prepared to look at this matter further.

10.20 p.m.


When they are giving consideration to this matter, will the Government bear in mind the fact that the third Thursday in March is very close to the arrival of Summer Time and that Summer Time in Scotland is almost invariably associated with snow storms? Furthermore, if the Government agree to postponement, will they please make that postponement such that it cannot be as far as the time when the General Assembly will be sitting?


May I ask the noble Lord to answer the question about the order? Is it or is it not subject to the Negative Resolution procedure?


I apologise for not replying to that question; it is not subject to Negative Resolution. I forbore to answer in detail—although I could because I have a note before me—the points which the noble Lord, Lord Gray, made because I said that we would be having a look at them.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he will be looking at them, but may I ask him to take us a little into his confidence and say what are the sort of emergencies which would induce the Government to alter the date forward or backwards?—because this question was asked and it interests me to see what the Government are really thinking on this issue.


Yes, I can certainly do that if the Committee would like me to expand somewhat on this. The Government believe it is sensible initially to provide some elbow room. It seems prudent, the Assembly being a new body, not to rule out almost anything at all in advance. The Government's position is that they have sought to achieve some flexibility by the power in subsection (2). It will enable the Secretary of State to deal with certain circumstances as and when they arise. However, the power to vary should, in the view of the Government, be strictly limited and should be fairly short, otherwise the Secretary of State might be put in a position where his motives for delaying or bringing forward an Assembly election might be questioned. The reason why the Secretary of State might act might be, for example, the question of a European election, the possibility of a General Election, and so on. These are the possible difficulties which may perhaps face a Secretary of State.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation, but I should have thought, at least so far as a General Election was concerned, that the Prime Minister of the day decided that, except on the very rare occasions when the Government are defeated and must go to the country. I should have thought that it would be up to the Prime Minister to decide that it was not suitable to have a General Election at the same time. If a General Election takes place because the Government are defeated, I find it difficult to believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland will know about that in sufficient time to take the appropriate action, and therefore I do not see that this is a sensible operation. My view and I make it clear that it is my personal view—is that, if one is to have a four-year period, one will do better to accept that it is a four-year period and not let anybody change it for his or for anybody else's convenience.


I think the noble Lord's brief must have been prepared before it was announced that the European elections would be in June because they are also for a fixed term and presumably they will go on being in June, so it is hardly likely to affect fixed-term elections for the Assembly in March.

I was going to suggest that, in considering this matter, if I am right about the absence of need for advancing the elections—and it is difficult to see one except in the case of dissolution—the best course would perhaps be to amend the dissolution clause to provide that, if there is less than a certain amount of time between the ending of the two months within which the Minister must make an order and the regular time for an ordinary election, he can extend the time. If no other reason can be foreseen, perhaps he could consider the acceptance unnecessary to give power to advance the election.

The Duke of ATHOLL

Can the Minister say whether it is two lunar months or two calendar months? If it is calendar months he might find the elections not taking place on a Thursday. This would not worry me personally, but I know the Minister is aware that elections in Scotland, except for General Elections and Parliamentary by-elections, have traditionally always taken place on a Tuesday. It seems to me that if we think a Thursday is the right day for elections we ought to put in 56 days rather than two months.


I must confess that I have never addressed my mind to that point, but I shall do so and let the noble Duke know.


My thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and to all those who have spoken, but I am a little disappointed. I cannot hear tonight about my final point as to whether the power in the Bill is what it appears to be or whether it is not.


It was merely that I took account of the fact that it was after 10 o'clock and I thought that some of your Lordships might want to talk about one or two Amendments which are still before us. Because I had said that we are going to give some consideration to the point raised I thought I might shorten the debate at this point. In thinking that I miscalculated the mood of the Committee. I shall tell the noble Lord that an order under Clause 2(2) relates specifically to ordinary elections which are called regularly on a four-year cycle. The Members of the Assembly will know the date of the next election. It is unlikely that they will wish to have a dissolution and election in the run-up to an ordinary election. The Assembly election after a dissolution serves only for the remainder of the period of the Assembly which they replace. If the Assembly resolved to dissolve, for example, three months before an ordinary election it would be open to the Secretary of State to use an order under Clause 2(2) to bring forward the next ordinary election so that it becomes in effect the post-dissolution election. It is really at that point that we on this side of the Committee are in some initial disagreement with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gray. But we agree that perhaps the point he had made is worth looking at afresh. No doubt the Secretary of State would consult the Scottish administration about a use of an order in this way and only provide it if it is acceptable to them.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for having given me the extra answer and I am reluctant to detain the Committee any further. Therefore I accept his offer to look at it again and shall expect perhaps to hear from him. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 39 to 43 not moved.]

10.29 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (4) and insert —. ("(4) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft thereof shall have been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said

We are really back on the same subject that we have just left at the last Amendment, because as we have seen the Secretary of State can alter by two months the date of an election, and all he has to do is to make an order to that effect. Of course, it does not have to have any Parliamentary approval. My concern is that I am sure all Secretaries of State have been people of unparalleled integrity, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, did admit that if you gave too much of a gap people could question the reason why, if the length of dissolution was too long.

I was not at all clear on what the conditions would have to be before the Secretary of State were to change the date by two months. Indeed—and I say this with the greatest respect—I do not think that we are that much wiser after the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has tried to explain it to us. Could there be some reasons other than those which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, suggested? There could indeed he a political advantage in calling an election at another time. The Bill gives the Secretary of State four months leeway, and the choice is his—and his alone—to decide when to call for the election of the Assembly. The point of the Amendment is to ensure perfect rectitude, that the Secretary of State should retain this right, but that it should he subject to Parliamentary approval. That is the purpose of the Amendment. I beg to move.

10.31 p.m.


The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has quite properly drawn the attention of your Lordships to the different treatment in Clause 2 of the once-and-for-all order to be made under subsection (1) there, which is subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure, and any orders which will be made under subsection (2), which require no Parliamentary involvement—a point about which he complains.

There is a very practical reason for the Affirmative Resolution procedure for the subsection (1) order. It was pointed out in discussion on the Scotland and Wales Bill, which provided only Negative Resolution procedure for the order fixing the first election, that if that procedure were used, the Instrument, after it had been made and laid, would be at risk of being annulled for the next 40 Sitting days. So unless a gap of 40 Sitting days, which in practice can span three calendar months—I notice here the reference to calendar months; this brings my thoughts back to a previous Amendment—is allowed between the laying date and the date fixed for the election, in theory the order could be annulled after the election, with, presumably, incalculable results. The Government, therefore, decided that the Affirmative Resolution was desirable, bearing in mind that it would be used once only, and that Parliament could fairly claim an interest in the date of such a special election.

Quite different considerations apply to orders under Clause 2(2). This provision gives the Secretary of State a very limited discretion to move the date for a particular election, and in the Government's view raises no issue of principle in relation to subsequent election dates sufficient to justify any degree of Parliamentary involvement. The ministerial power confirmed by subsection (2) is a simple executive power, and despite the importance of the subject matter, it does not seem to justify, in the Government's view, any Parliamentary procedure. The need for an Affirmative Resolution procedure would seem, therefore, to be unnecessary, and perhaps an unreasonable use of Parliamentary time. The arguments against Negative Resolution are those which have been referred to in relation to the order under subsection (1). I think that that is as fair an explanation of the Government's position at this time as I can give to the Committee.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. I think that what be is saying is that if it is subject to a Negative Resolution it will take 40 days, and therefore the election might have taken place. I do not think that that applies if it is subject to an Affirmative Resolution. I think the noble Lord really said that this is merely an executive matter and it should not need Parliamentary approval. My only point is that I should have thought there could be circumstances—I am not saying that there would be—where the leeway of four months (and this is a four months' discretion which the Secretary of State has) could he used for political purposes. It is unlikely that it would be used, but it could be used, and I should have thought that in order to have avoided that it may have been worth while making the matter subject to Parliamentary approval. If the noble Lord is to look at the question raised by my noble friend Lord Gray, then he might as well cast his mind over this problem too. I will not trouble the Committee any further at the moment,and I beg leave to—


Before my noble friend withdraws the Amendment, I should like to make the point that, so far as the postponement of the order is concerned, I do not think that the consideration which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, mentioned would necessarily apply. Quite clearly, the postponement would have to be made before the election campaign was due to start, so there ought to be plenty of time for the debating of an order for postponement. I would think that this is necessary for many reasons. For example, there is always this problem of business falling, of Bills being lost, at the end of a period of Parliament, and this is a serious matter. If you then proceed to postpone in order to get Bills—and this is an Executive act—it really ought to be subject to Parliamentary approval. Perhaps the noble Lord will consider that.


When the noble Lord is considering this, I wonder whether he would not also consider, perhaps, that what we seem to be doing today is making a whole lot of arrangements for unforeseen and rather unexplained purposes. I feel very strongly myself at this stage, having listened to what has been said, that the real answer is to have a fixed date, and I cannot myself see any reasonable excuse for changing it. Obviously, the death of a Monarch, or something of that kind, might have an effect; but whether I was Secretary of State or an ordinary man in the street, I would much rather know that the election came at a certain time, and that was that. I think this would really save a great deal of trouble and worry, and I would strongly recommend the Government to look at it before the next stage.


I would not in any sense wish to leave a wrong impression in your Lordships' Committee. I have agreed specifically to give further consideration to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gray. Of course, I am sensitive to points which are raised in debate, but I am not able at this stage to say that I am going to consider each and every further point which has been made to me. I would say, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas—and it is such a magnificent valley—that, of course, the political constraints upon the Secretary of State in this situation will be enormous, and I think without doubt this must surely be a constraining factor. I merely put that point to him for his own consideration.


If I may say this to the noble Lord, the obvious comparison is the American Presidential elections. They are fixed every four years, and there is nothing anybody can do about it.


In the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, I think he inferred that he would not be looking at this again. I think that is a pity, because we were getting along famously. He was going to look again at the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Gray, and I thought he might look at this at the same time. I hope that, even if he does not give a commitment to do so, he will nevertheless consider it, because I think there is quite a lot in it, and particularly in what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of SELKIRK

Perhaps I might draw attention to one point, to which I will not expect an answer now. Clause 2(3) says that a Member of the Assembly will cease to be a Member on dissolution. If he ceases to be a Member, then under Clause 20(8) he also ceases to be a Secretary. It is true that under Clause 3(2) the dissolution takes place the day before the election, but it might well happen that there was difficulty in forming another Government. I understand that the practice in this country normally is that you hold office until your successor is appointed. I just wondered whether there might not be a situation in which there would be no officers at all in the Scottish Executive.


In relation to that, may I say that I think this point arises under an Amendment we are coming to fairly shortly—at least, I hope we are coming to it fairly shortly.


Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord another question on Clause 2(3). There has been, it seemed to me—and this was a purely personal view—a considerable injustice done to the honourable Member for Argyll, because it so happened that, owing to the time it took to get the boxes from Tiree to Dunoon to be counted, lie was not deemed by the Fees Office to be elected until the Saturday. Therefore, after each election he lost two days' pay. I think this is unfair, because you are obviously elected the day the people put their votes in the box; but this was not the view of the Fees Office. I think that this subsection should read:. The term of office of any member of the Assembly, whether elected at an ordinary election or otherwise, shall begin on the day of the election".

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Dissolution of Assembly]:

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.].

10.40 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 46: Page 2, line 33, leave out ("on the eve of") and insert ("fourteen days before").

The noble Earl said

This Amendment is put down in order to gain some information from the Government. The Assembly, as written in the Bill, stands dissolved "on the eve of any ordinary election". I have suggested in the Amendment that it should stand dissolved 14 days before the election. To "stand dissolved on the eve of any ordinary election" seems a curious Parliamentary expression. I want to know what it means. It seems to have more of a religious, Biblical connotation than a Parliamentary one. I am asking these two questions. First, if the noble and learned Lord is to reply, I should be grateful if he will give a definition of "eve". By that, I hasten to say that I do not mean the opposite of "Adam". Is it the night before or the day before or 24 hours before the election?


I can answer that at once. It is midnight.


That is a very telling point. I was coming to that. If the noble and learned Lord says that it is midnight, then, if the election is to be on a Thursday, in order for the Assembly to "stand dissolved" on the Wednesday, it cannot be dissolved on the Wednesday. It must, therefore, be dissolved at midnight between the Tuesday and the Wednesday in order that it should "stand dissolved" on the Wednesday. If I am right, that means the Assembly has to be dissolved on the Tuesday. If it has to be dissolved on the Tuesday, why does not the Bill say so?—instead of using this curious Biblical expression, "eve", which, I think, is somewhat misleading.


I am afraid that I am not a theologian.


By the time I get to the end of my speech, if the noble and learned Lord will permit, he will be so. The second question which I pose by this Amendment is this. Is it not undesirable to have the Assembly sitting in power, in Session, right up to the day of the election? In Westminster—and one wonders why the Westminster style has not been used—Parliament stands dissolved before the election, but Ministers hold their offices until the election, until the replacement. I wonder whether this would not be a better system to use in the Assembly, whereby the Assembly would stand dissolved 14 days before; but those who hold office would hold office, as under the Westminster system, until the election has taken place and they are either renewed or replaced in office. beg to move.


May I support this Amendment? I have taken part in a great many General Elections. I cannot imagine how Parliament can go on until the eve of the election when candidates have been out (or should have been out) electioneering in whatever area they are representing. In the regions, one would have to travel a great distance to different places. If in town, it is more confined. In any case, I think it is a great mistake not to follow the long-established custom of the United Kingdom Parliament and let Parliament come to an end and have then at least a fortnight—and I believe it is nearly three weeks—before actually going to the polls and electing another Parliament.

10.45 p.m.


Arising out of one of the last remarks that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, made about the continuance in office of Members of the Executive, and the point which was made slightly earlier by my noble friend the Lord Selkirk, I think that I have discovered the answer for myself. I wonder whether the Government will tell me if I am right. Because the Bill requires a Member of the Executive to be a Member of the Assembly, and they do not want to have to reappoint Members of the Executive following an election, with a break of only 24, 36 or 72 hours, depending on what view we are taking this evening, the strange provision in Clause 20(8), to which my noble friend Lord Selkirk referred, is there. The only trouble we have had in understanding it is that perhaps it is wrongly worded. It says at the moment: …a member of the Assembly shall not be treated as ceasing to be such a member … Surely it should say: "… shall be treated as not having ceased to be such a member …"?


I think the substantial point here is that a choice has to be made between having an interregnum between dissolution and the election on the one hand, and ensuring continuity between the incoming and outgoing Assemblies on the other hand. At Westminster, as has been said, there is an interregnum but Ministers retain their seals of office and their capacity to act so far as they can act without resort specifically to Parliament. In local government there is continuity. The Government prefer continuity, as the Bill provides, for both the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. We have not yet examined the Wales Bill; but it will be appreciated that, because the Assembly is the Executive, continuity is essential. It would be slightly bizarre if we had a Welsh Assembly that stood dissolved on the eve of the election and a Scottish Assembly which was dissolved 14 days beforehand. That is one reason.

I do not know whether the noble Earl took account of Clause 20(8) when he made his remarks. Clause 20(8) makes provision for the continuation in office of the Scottish Secretary. I wonder whether he thinks that Clause 20(8) would stand along with the Amendment which he proposes. I think that there might be difficulties. It would be unfortunate if there was some gap between the dissolution of one Assembly and the election of the next, because one can envisage that there might be emergency situations. The standing orders of the Assembly, for example, might provide that a certain power may be exercised only if there is approval of the Assembly to the exercise of the power or the making of an order, whatever it may be.

If the Assembly was dissolved at a particular time and there was no Assembly elected to take its place, then one might find that in an emergency Ministers could not act, so one wants to have the Assembly there.

I am not sure whether the noble Earl had in mind any point about the payment of Members of the Assembly during this 14-day period. He did not make that point in opening on this Amendment and I do not want to reply if it is not a point that is in his mind. But I would suggest that, because of the analogy with the Welsh Assembly, because of the need to have a provision that is consistent with Clause 20(8), and because of the need to have an Assembly there to deal with emergencies, continuity is desirable. For these reasons, I would defend the provision as it stands.

The Earl of SELKIRK

The noble and learned Lord has not answered the point I made; he has not attempted to answer it. This sentence ends: …if he is again elected at the election following the dissolution. But supposing he is not elected? That means that there is no officer to perform the duties. If the noble and learned Lord takes out the last words and simply says: … but for this purpose a member of the Assembly shall not be treated as ceasing to be such a member on the dissolution of the Assembly if he is again elected", that does not really meet the question of the Secretary. I do not have pay in mind, but that someone has to be there to take decisions until the new Administration is appointed. It may well be, as has happened in some countries, that it is found difficult to find a First Secretary. It may be found difficult to set up a new Government. In those circumstances, the interregnum will go on for some time, and I think it would be a great pity.


I was not dealing with that point at this time, as I hope the noble Earl will recognise. As I understand it, the period of time I was supposed to be talking about in relation to this Amendment was the period of time before the election. The difficulty in the noble Earl's mind is one which he envisages as arising after the election. No doubt that is a point, and it is one I shall be happy to consider when we reach Clause 20(8); but it does not arise directly out of this Amendment.


How does the noble and learned Lord think that anybody can conduct an election—it may be for the first time or it may be just continuing—if he has no time to take part in a contested election? Will he have to go to the Assembly every day when it is sitting, when he is supposed to be out in his constituency trying to get himself elected? This is not a dictatorship; people who stand for this Assembly will have to fight for their seats, just as in any other election, whether it is local government or anything else. If they do not allow time off for that, I cannot think how anybody could conduct it, and I do not think you would get a democratic Assembly. I think this is a great mistake.


If I might reply to the noble Baroness on that point, I am quite certain that the Assembly would not normally sit in the immediate run-up to the election; but if some emergency situation required the Assembly to sit, surely the Members would come back from fighting the campaign and participate in the necessary work of the Assembly. After all, this is not a matter which we have to determine in the course of this Bill. We merely give the Assembly this kind of option, and if the situation requires it they will deal with it in that way.


I should be much more worried on this point. If you had a system of this kind, in which the Assembly would meet if there was some problem, it would entirely consist of a few people with, perhaps, seats in Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the people with seats in the Borders and the North and so on would in no way be able to be there. I honestly cannot believe that something which Parliament has managed for several hundred years, without having Parliament sitting until the eve of the election, cannot be done quite simply by the Assembly.

10.57 p.m.


I think we seem to be in a bit of a fix, because the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has said it would be a trifle bizarre if Wales had continuity in their Assembly and Scotland did not have continuity in theirs. But we have not yet had the Wales Bill, and there is no reason why Wales should have continuity if the Scots do not. I think that in some respects it would be slightly bizarre to have a system whereby Westminster dissolved itself some weeks before an election and the Assembly did not. I see no reason why the Assembly should not dissolve itself and the Executive continue to hold their seals of office.

The noble and learned Lord said that the Assembly might have standing orders which would make it difficult for them to operate if there was a dissolution; but of course the Assembly makes its own standing orders under the provisions later in the Bill; and the standing orders they would make would presumably take account of the fact that there would be a dissolution some 14 days before, if that was written into the Bill. So, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, I do not think that argument is very convincing.

May I add two points: first, I think it is desirable to have a break before the election. Secondly, I think there ought to be some procedure for dissolution. I cannot see that under the Bill there is any procedure, but I have no doubt that in due course the noble and learned Lord will he able to tell us what the procedure is. Is it a fact—he did not answer the point I raised—that the Assembly automatically comes to an end at midnight of the Tuesday/Wednesday? What happens if it is in the full flow of business? Does the business suddenly stop, and is there to be no dissolution procedure and no formal movement of a Motion? Otherwise, it gives us the impression that it will be like Cinderella and suddenly, when the bell rings, it turns into a pumpkin and is no longer there. And who would decide the timing of the dissolution of the Assembly? Would it be Big Ben? It is a funny state of affairs when, in order to dissolve the Assembly, they have to take the time from Westminster. I think that the noble and learned Lord's answer was not wholly convincing. I wonder, therefore, if he would be kind enough to consider whether there should be some more detailed provision as to how the Assembly is to be dissolved.


I shall not give undertakings to consider matters. But, of course, I shall have to reply on clause stand part, and perhaps I could then, in the light of another day, seek to convince the noble Earl more fully than I have succeeded in doing tonight.


That is all very fine, but I should have liked a little more convincing now. I ask this very genuine question. Am I right in believing that, whatever business is going on in the Assembly up till 12 o'clock when the gong goes or the bell strikes, suddenly everything will come to an end and there is to be no procedure for bringing it to an end? Is that correct?


The noble Earl is not looking at tins realistically, if I may respectfully say so. If he looks at Clause 3, he will see that we are talking about dissolution on the eve of an ordinary election. They will have known for months or years when the ordinary election is to take place, and, if the Assembly is so conducting its business that all its coaches turn into pumpkins at midnight, I shall be very surprised. Surely, they will make provision for the fact that the third Thursday in March is creeping on inexorably, and they will have known about it for a long time. So that the scenario—to use the common word—which the noble Earl has in mind is not one that makes any sense to ine.


Has not the noble and learned Lord forgotten that, a few moments ago, we decided that the Secretary of State may, on a whim, change the date of the election? Therefore, how will they know whether he is advancing the date by two months, when they will turn into a pumpkin as the magic 12 o'clock arrives?


Is it customary for the House of Commons to go on in being, right up to the eve of the election? What is the exact position? Your Lordships' House continues regardless, of course, but the Parliament is brought to an end, and yet it must vest somewhere or another. Can the noble and learned Lord consider where the Assembly vests during the intervening period, however short that may be? If I am right in thinking that it vests somewhere, what is the need for continuity? Why not dissolve like any other assembly, at the time you have the election, and not on the eve of the election?


The noble Lord talks about any other assembly. But I mentioned that local authorities go on. There is continuity there. That is on one side of the coin; and on the other side you have the Westminster Parliament which stands dissolved, but Ministers remain in office, the prerogative may be exercised and other powers may be exercised. I have also mentioned the Welsh Assembly. It is merely a question of judgment, in the light of various precedents.

The Earl of PERTH

I have listened to this debate with the greatest interest, and I am very puzzled by the Government's position. It seems to me that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has a very good point, and I do not see why the Government should not accept that the Assembly is dissolved a fortnight before; but—and we inevitably get a "but"—the Ministers continue to operate until the new Assembly is chosen, and new Ministers are appointed. That is broadly what happens in Westminster, and I do not see any reason why there is not a very good point here.


The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, has been kind enough to say that he will answer this point when clause stand part comes. I do not know how he knew that there would be a debate on clause stand part. But, anyhow, we are assured that there will be such a debate. If the noble and learned Lord cares to return to the point again in order to explain it in more detail, I shall be grateful, although I know that he does not like being asked to think again on these matters and that he would not do so if he had to make a commitment. However, it seems to me that there is a small point here, although I quite agree that it is not an overwhelming one. If the Assembly has to die at some juncture, it is nicer for it not just to slide into death but for it to know when its death is to take place. If the noble and learned Lord would be kind enough to think about it, I should be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.1 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 47: Page 2, line 35, at end insert ("after a motion of no confidence in the Scottish Executive has been passed").

The noble Earl said

The Assembly can dissolve itself if two-thirds of the members decide that they wish so to do. The Amendment which I move seeks to reduce the possibility of the Assembly dissolving itself either to challenge Westminster or to advantage one Party or to disadvantage another.

One of the drawbacks of this Bill is that as time goes on there will, certainly in my estimation and in the estimation of a number of people, be the possibility of a reduction of harmony and an increase of friction between the Assembly and Westminster. We all know that that is not intended. We all know that that is not wanted. Some of us believe, however, that, whether or not it is intended, that is likely to be the outcome. This must be curtailed, if it is at all possible for us to do so.

It is perfectly possible to envisage considerable hostility in the Assembly—for instance, at the inadequate provision of funds by Whitehall. There is to be negotiation about the block grant, but in the end it is Westminster which determines exactly how much money Scotland gets. Scotland may well think that this amount is inadequate. All Parties in the Assembly may be united at the meanness and parsimony, as they see it, of Whitehall. They might consider that the United Kingdom Parliament is making gross underprovision for Scotland. Indeed, they almost certainly will think that. In that case, it would be perfectly possible for the Assembly to dissolve itself and call an election to show Westminster how united Scotland is against Westminster.

One of the arguments for proportional representation was that if you did not get it the Scottish Nationalists could, on a minority vote, have a governing role in the Assembly. And that would be a Party dedicated to the destruction of the United Kingdom. Although I did not vote for proportional representation, I found that to be a devastating argument.

Let us suppose that another place does not accept our Amendment and that the first-past-the-post system is put back into the Bill, and let us further suppose that the Scottish Nationalists thereby form a Government and that they are dissatisfied with the amount of money which Westminster provides—and they will be dissatisfied with the amount of money that Westminster provides. Can your Lordships not see the temptation for them to have a two-thirds majority for the dissolution of the Assembly and then to dissolve the Assembly and go to the hustings to campaign for more support for their Party to work for independence because, as they would say, Whitehall is preventing Scotland from doing what Scotland wants to do? "Give us a big majority", they will say, "and we will show Westminster exactly what the people of Scotland really feel". I believe that this could he disastrous.

All that this Amendment does is to ensure that before the Secretary of State lays an order dissolving the Assembly, the Assembly must first pass a vote of no confidence in the Executive. If that is done, this then relates any dissolution of the Assembly to the internal affairs of the Assembly and at least lessens a little the possibility of a dissolution whereby the Assembly will be pitted against Westminster and the votes of the people of Scotland will be used to substantiate that rift. It would also prevent the opportunity of the governing Party seeking a dissolution for its own electoral benefit. Governments at Westminster choose the date of the election. That privilege is specifically denied in this Bill, other than with the agreement of two-thirds of the Assembly. I believe that it would lessen the temptation of the Party in power to seek electoral advantage by dissolution if they first had to have a vote of no confidence passed upon them. That is the object of this Amendment. I beg to move.


The Government believe that it is right that the Assembly should serve a fixed four-year term, and I do not believe that the noble Earl is disputing that. But the Government acknowledge that circumstances may arise in which by-elections or political realignments might prevent the Scottish Executive from continuing to command a sufficient measure of support in the Assembly to ensure the continuance of essential business. It might not prove possible for an alternative Executive to fare any better, and accordingly there has to he provision for premature dissolution.

The Government see premature dissolution as a crisis provision. They do not think it would be in the interests of good government if it were to become the norm rather than very much the exception; accordingly, two limitations have been written into Clause 3 to ensure that it is used as a crisis provision only. The first is the limitation that Members representing two-thirds of all Assembly seats—not just those Members present but two-thirds of all the Assembly seats—should vote in favour of the dissolution; secondly, and equally important, is that the new Assembly will only serve out the remainder of the then current four-year term. So they cannot dissolve the Assembly and then get another four years. If there is only a year to run, they just get that year.

To take the point of political advantage, it has been argued by the noble Earl that the Bill allows the administration to gain advantage by securing a dissolution in this way. But why on earth should a First Secretary who can command a majority of two-thirds in the Assembly seek to dissolve the Assembly, and run the risk of an election, when all he can do is to come back for the remainder of the four-year term? With respect, that seems to be a slightly unreal possibility. Even if he seemed to be enjoying enormous political popularity in Scotland, he would be taking a substantial political risk by having another election campaign with little to gain except the possibility of winning a few more seats, when he already commands apparently a two-thirds majority. One would have thought that there would be a serious political constraint upon him from adopting such a course, and one would have thought that it would be politically unwise to do any such thing.

The other point which I had not expected from the noble Earl, but I am obliged to him for making it clear, was the point that if there has to be a Motion of no confidence that would somehow relate to the internal affairs of the Assembly. But if the noble Earl thinks that through, he will appreciate that, if the situation were as he described, the First Secretary, and the Administration who could command the two-thirds majority, would have no difficulty at all in moving a vote of no confidence in themselves, and saying loudly and clearly to the electorate, "We are having to do this because of this silly provision in the Bill, but you will understand very clearly that we are dissolving the Assembly"— for the reasons given by the noble Earl. In other words, they could get across to the electorate that this was a technicality which they had to go through and they would avoid all the problems by the First Secretary moving the vote of no confidence in his own Executive, supported by the other Members of it. ft would be seen as a political device and it would save votes. It would not create any great difficulty if there was a determination to dissolve the Assembly as a kind of demonstration against Westminster. In those circumstances, I should have thought that the safeguards built into the clause are quite sufficient, and it is unnecessary and not helpful to have this Amendment written into the Bill.

11.10 p.m.


It is understood that we shall certainly have three Parties and there may be four—the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives. Suppose there is a switch round. The Lib-Lab pact that we hear so much about today might operate there, and there might be a Liberal-Nationlist pact which would then vote against the Assembly as it was elected, and the First Secretary would then find himself in a minority. Is he then going to carry on despite the fact that he has been voted out? I understood this was going to be a democratic Assembly, and under the system of proportional representation a fair number of people would be elected. Under proportional representation, there is nothing to say they are all going to stay in the same Lobby; they may want to change.

If there is no opportunity for change, are you going to have a minority continuing for four years in order to complete the period of four years which is in the Bill? From what the noble Lord says, it seems to me you are running the risk of having a minority Government and people not being able to change the Assembly. Surely, you must allow for the fact that the Assembly may want to change itself. You may have a change in Edinburgh which is not the same in the United Kingdom Parliament, and you have the possibility of a Party being in power in one part of the United Kingdom although not in power in Westminster. I find it very difficult to understand what the noble and learned Lord has just said. It seems to me most undemocratic.


I think there are two points; there is one to which the Amendment relates, which is the question of dissolving the Assembly. The other one, which the noble Baroness has in mind, is the question of whether within the context of a continuing Assembly the Members may change the Administration. That point is covered by Clause 20(6) which reads:. A Scottish Secretary shall hold office at Her Majesty's pleasure Subsection (5) envisages that: If the Assembly has nominated one of its members for appointment as First Secretary that member shall be so appointed.". So it is within the context of Clause 20 that one deals with the question the noble Baroness is speaking about; and that is slightly different from the point which is raised by the noble Earl.


We always cast the Scottish Nationalists as the villains of the piece; everyone envisages disaster if they get a large majority. I would say from these Benches that we would envisage just as great a disaster if the Conservative Party or even the Labour Party got a large majority, as they have now, with a minority of the votes. The whole reason for PR is to prevent any Party from wreaking havoc with the democratic wishes of the electorate because of the bad method of election. I can see quite clearly that the Labour Party might well want to precipitate an election against the Conservative Party in Great Britain as a whole and would wish to dissolve the Assembly in Scotland in order to demonstrate how greedy the Conservative Government is being. I think the whole of the arguments reinforce the need for PR. I cannot see that two-thirds of the Assembly agreeing is sufficient to safeguard against most of the dangers pointed out.


Trust the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, to cast a whole bucket of muddy water over the problem. I thought at least half the point of PR was to ensure that the Liberal Party got at least some votes, even if they would not have the slightest possibility of being as disastrous as either the Conservatives or the Scottish Nationalists because they would not get into that position if it were not for PR; and even with PR they are not likely to get into that position because they will not get enough people to vote for them.

However, apart from that, it was really a complete red herring to the subject under discussion which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, was trying to help me about. Quite understandably, he said that this is a crisis provision and I accept that entirely. However, he did say that the point which I was worried about—the Assembly and Westminster finding themselves on a head-on collision course—would not really come about because, if there was that likelihood, and even if my Amendment were passed, the Assembly would first of all pass a vote of no confidence in the Government or in the Executive, and the Executive would be party to it. That is rather like an animal eating itself.

I cannot see—and perhaps the noble Lord would address his simile to Westminster—how any Government would ever be prepared to dissolve themselves on, first of all, having a Motion of no confidence passed in themselves to which they were a party. It is very unlikely to happen in Westminster and very unlikely to happen in Scotland. My main reason for tabling this Amendment was to try to avoid the possibility, which I can see is a real possibility, of the Assembly becoming so worked up about what it might consider to be the meanness of the Westminster provision or some other such case, and saying, "Right, we shall now dissolve ourselves and go to the country in Scotland and show Westminster how the Scottish people feel". If it goes to the country on a subject like lack of funds, that is a wonderful cause to go on, and it would be a wonderful cause for the public to support. The public will say, "Of course we shall support these people; they want more money from Westminster".

So we gradually get the Assembly pitted against Westminster, and that would be a great shame. However, if the noble and learned Lord thinks that this Amendment is unsuitable to include in the Bill, I should not wish to press it at this stage. But it is worth consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed