§ 3.6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sewel.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.1235
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [The Scottish Parliament]:
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("which shall consist of two chambers.
(1A) This Act makes provision for the establishment, composition and powers of the lower chamber of the Scottish Parliament, and (other than in subsections (1) to (1B) of this section and in section (Second chamber of the Scottish Parliament)) references to "the Parliament" and "the Scottish Parliament" shall be construed as references to the lower chamber.
(1B) Section (Second chamber of the Scottish Parliament) makes provision relating to the establishment of a second chamber of the Scottish Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, perhaps I should begin by saying that it may be quite some time before we reach Amendment No. 391! This amendment and the others grouped with it essentially seek to introduce a second chamber into the Scottish parliamentary arrangements and a method by which we might arrive at the composition of that second chamber. I decided that it was perhaps wise not to suggest that those of your Lordships with Scottish residence should form the second chamber. I thought that the Government might find that a little too easy to knock down with the usual lines that, as we know, come spinning out of Downing Street from time to time. That is why I have suggested that the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, should set up a commission of not more than 15 members who would take evidence, discuss the issue, and come to conclusions, perhaps with options which they would present to the Government and to Parliament. We could then proceed to create a second chamber for the Scottish parliament.
§ At Second Reading a number of your Lordships pointed out that the proposals before us did not envisage a second chamber, but a unicameral parliament. A number of your Lordships expressed some concern about that and I have no doubt that we shall hear that concern again today.
§ We all know the arguments in favour of a revising chamber—although perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is not quite as sympathetic to that argument today as he might have been at this time yesterday! However, assuming that the noble Lord takes such matters in reasonably good humour, I believe that he will find the argument for a second Chamber compelling. The very fact that the Government have made it clear that they do not want the current composition of this House to continue but that they do want this House to continue indicates that they believe that there is a place in our system for a second chamber.
§ One knows that all governments use this House considerably during the passage of legislation, and it is upon that that I wish to concentrate. Noble Lords do other things. This Chamber has Question Time and considers secondary legislation. That is a function that could be performed by a second chamber of the Scottish parliament. Noble Lords also have a particular role regarding European legislation. That is something that 1236 your Lordships do uniquely among parliaments, unicameral and bicameral, around the rest of the European Union.
§ However, the main daily task—I nearly said "daily grind"—of noble Lords is to look at legislation. Under all governments in this Chamber amendments have been proposed from the Opposition, the Cross-Benches and the Government. Recently, in a lecture on the House of Lords I learnt—I presume it to be right—that in this Session the Government themselves will have chalked up about 2,000 amendments in your Lordships' House on legislation. That does not include amendments that have been moved from other parts of the House. Most of them have been accepted by the Government without Division, and a few have been forced upon the Government. I do not know whether I have amended this Bill to the extent that the Welsh Bill is being amended, but I have tabled a significant number of amendments in your Lordships' House which are perhaps the result of undertakings in the Commons or points raised in this House.
§ No one in this House can doubt that this system depends upon the existence of a second chamber in order to iron out the problems of legislation and to give the Government the opportunity to listen to the arguments, and make the necessary changes, not only in this House but outside. In the sister (or cousin) Welsh Bill the Government have tabled a number of very significant and welcome amendments. One day about 37 or 38 of the 70-odd pages of the Marshalled List were taken up by government amendments. It is perfectly clear that in our system the second chamber plays a vitally important role. No doubt the Committee will be told that not every system has two chambers. That is certainly true. There are parts of the world where only one chamber exists and they appear to get along perfectly well; in other parts of the world there are two chambers and they appear to get along perfectly well.
§ The argument from the Government Benches on a number of constitutional issues that irritates me most is that it is done one way in one country and a different way in another country, that we should copy what everybody else is doing and that we do not have enough confidence to stand by our own traditions and methods. Some of them may appear to be fairly arcane to people outside this country but those methods have grown up over hundreds of years of democracy—which is a lot more than can be said for many of the countries whose constitutional arrangements we are asked to copy.
§ Every country exercises its democracy in a different way because of its history, size and the way in which its political parties have grown up. All these issues determine how our constitutional arrangements work. I do not believe that just because Norway, Sweden and Finland—to name the three that I suspect we shall hear a good deal about—have unicameral parliaments, we must do the same here. In the wintertime they have endless nights. It does not mean that we should try to do the same here, although some wish to muck about with the clock in order to bring that about in this country. We are all different. I am all for these differences. I do not suggest to these countries that they 1237 should adopt bicameral parliaments. That is their business. Therefore, it is to our traditions and way of working that we should look.
§ No doubt the Government will say that a new Scottish parliament, which after all will be a legislature, should look at different ways of working and does not have to carry on the traditions that have been pursued in the United Kingdom Parliament. As the Civil Service and the mindset of most of us is formed by a system that has been in operation for centuries in this country the chances are that the Scottish parliament will continue to operate along the lines of the House of Commons as far as concerns legislation. Even in the case of ordinary legislation, unless it is agreed by all channels—when it is agreed by all channels there is probably greater scrutiny—it takes about three or four months. We are aware from our experience in this Parliament that that is not really enough. Another two or three months are required in the other Chamber if we are to get it right. We do not always succeed even then, given the fact that there are two bites at the cherry. Two different sets of people look at legislation and a bit more time is allowed for the Government to consider and reflect upon what has been said. I suggest to the Committee that in this country legislation is greatly improved by the existence of a second chamber.
§ I have little doubt that we shall be told that the Scottish parliament can use other methods. Later on we shall be investigating some of those other methods, but I do not believe that we should leave that to chance. The second chamber deserves at least consideration. I am not particularly thirled as to how it should be composed. I do not believe that it should be composed as a reflection of the first chamber. Perhaps it could be elected on a different basis from the first chamber. For example, one person, for every unitary authority may give more weight in the whole system to the rural areas of Scotland than to the heavily populated Central belt. Under that system Glasgow, Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles and so on would each have one member. It would not be entirely balanced because the Highland Region, which is fairly large, would have one member. I am not thirled to any particular method. But there is one method that we can certainly use. Members could be appointed. Some governments make very sensible appointments to your Lordships' House in the way of Life Peers. I am quite sure that a way can be found whereby a small number of people who represent various interests in Scotland are brought together to perform the role of a second chamber.
§ However, the object of my amendment is not to determine the composition of the second chamber. That will be decided by a commission which will report on the issue. My main proposition is that we should make provision for that to happen under the Bill and debate whether or not there should be a second chamber. If we are not to have a second chamber, we should debate how the checks and balances that a second chamber would provide under this and many other systems can be provided in the Scottish parliament.
§ Unlike the Welsh assembly, the Scottish parliament will be passing primary legislation across a very wide field for the people of Scotland. That singles it out as a 1238 different body from the Welsh assembly. I have not made proposals similar to those of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy in respect of the Welsh Bill because I do not believe that the position is the same. In Scotland one is considering a legislature with considerable powers over a very wide field. For that reason I believe it is right that in this Chamber, if not in the other, we should at least discuss whether or not there is merit in having some form of second chamber in the Scottish parliament.
§ I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I hope that he will address the general question of how legislation is to be dealt with. That will be useful for the later stages of the Bill when we try to ensure that any vague promises about how legislation is to be dealt with are put on the face of the Bill and not just left to a wing and a prayer.
§ This is a useful debate to begin with because the British tradition, as I started by saying and conclude by saying, is that we should have two Houses—a second Chamber that is a revising Chamber which does not compete with the other place but complements it. It would enhance the system of government we are developing in Scotland. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hughes of Woodside
I listened to the noble Lord with great interest. I might have misunderstood his demeanour or body language from this distance, but I thought I saw a little bit of a twinkle in his eye when he moved the amendment and thought it was a little bit tongue in cheek. If I follow his argument for a second Chamber, it is very thin. He says that the problem is that the parliamentary draftsmen do not always get it right. I cannot speak with any great experience in this House and I would not wish to make a value judgment on how well this House revises legislation. It is my very strong view, having spent 27 years in the other place, that there legislation is very inadequately discussed. The Committee stages can last for days and long nights and seem to have been turned not into revising sessions but into arguments on principle to prevent Bills getting through. This to some extent reflects the adversarial nature of the House of Commons, with a government and an opposition.
All oppositions behave broadly in the same way. Whatever governments put forward, oppositions feel obliged to oppose. The whole purpose of an opposition is to oppose. Other noble Lords may have the same experience. Very little practical discussion takes place. Will the situation be any better in the Scottish parliament? We do not know. There are some intriguing debates to follow on how the Scottish parliament will be elected. Clearly the thrust of the Scotland Bill is that there should be a building up of consensus and working together. I take the point made by the noble Lord that consensus and agreement are not always the best way to proceed, but if there is proper discussion about proceedings before the parliament and the issues to be discussed, we can make a lot of progress.
I am sure that it would be very difficult to do a check, but it would be interesting to know how many of the changes made to a Bill are because of genuine flaws in the operation of a Bill or part of a Bill and how many 1239 arise because Bills have been rushed before Parliament and inadequately drafted. The proposition which is advanced that there ought to be more legislative discussion is a way of avoiding the necessity for a second Chamber.
Intriguingly, the one point that the noble Lord did not mention is the division of responsibility—where an elected body has an authority which no appointed Chamber has. I do not intend to get into a discussion on the merits of a quango system to replace this Parliament or whether patronage for one generation is better than patronage over several generations, which is the only difference between hereditary and non-hereditary Peers. However, we must think carefully before setting up a body in the Scottish parliament which will rival its power and lead to all kinds of differences.
I am no expert on the American constitution, but my rudimentary knowledge of it is that the initial constitution had an elected congress and an appointed senate. It was always intended that the senate should be the junior partner of the two Houses. But it was said that an appointed system, however well it was defined and arranged to allow for difference in size and influence, would not be democratic. In this case the noble Lord has suggested one from Glasgow, one from Orkney and one from Shetland to redress the balance of the regions, and we will return to that point later.
The Americans therefore arranged to have an elected senate. Whatever the reality of the American constitution, the fact is—although some constitutional experts disagree—that the senate is now the more powerful of the two Houses, which was never the intention.
A second Chamber would bring back into the equation in Scotland an argument that has continued throughout its constitutional history and still continues: which of the two Houses of Parliament is superior? Is it the lower House which is elected or is it this House which is appointed or achieved in other ways? If it is elected the argument about power will become exacerbated.
Leaving aside the theoretical argument, there are attractions to a second Chamber. However, the White Paper makes it quite clear that the new Scottish parliament should be up and running in 2000. There have been many discussions over the years as to whether there should be a Scottish parliament. There are noble Lords on the other side of the House who have blown hot and cold about it. However, during the Second Reading debate in this Chamber there was no head of steam about the necessity for a second Chamber. The matter was not discussed. It was discussed in some detail in the Scottish Convention, on which I served for a year, but it was concluded that we did not need a second Chamber.
If a commission is set up, it will take at least as long, if not longer, to arrive at an acceptable 15 members of the commission than it will to do the work. The noble Lord put the amendment forward in a beguiling manner, not because it is a wrecking amendment, because that would not be allowed and he would never dream of 1240 doing anything like that. But I am sure that he has at the back of his mind the fact that it is a device to delay the day when the Scottish parliament is up and running.
I have no doubt that the new Scottish parliament will make mistakes—I cannot think of any legislature in the world that has not made mistakes—but it should start as soon as possible, with its powers clearly defined, so that there is no need for a second Chamber, with some degree of consensus and a willingness to ensure that legislation is brought forward with due thought and care and proper drafting.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
It may seem rather churlish after the success of yesterday's Mackay/Steel partnership that I should rise so early in these debates in my more familiar role of disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, but I cannot commend the amendment to my noble friends.
There was one sentence in his remarks with which I did agree—when he said that the issue of a second Chamber ought to be considered. The first point that I should like to make is that it has been considered at length. I remind the noble Lord that the Minister of State during the Second Reading debate told us that the legislation with which we are now proceeding is based on the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. That convention sat not for weeks or months but for years, and the fact that the Conservative Party chose not to take part is a matter for the Conservative Party and not anyone else. They would have been welcome to participate in those discussions and they would have heard much discussion on this vexed question because it was thoroughly considered.
We rejected the idea of a second Chamber largely on grounds of cost and bureaucracy. We were very concerned, remembering the arguments that raged in the 1970s about extra layers of government; and that was the fundamental reason why it was rejected.
I pray in aid of that argument no less a person than Mr. Michael Ancram. I quote him not only because he is a former constituent of mine and a prospective Member of this place but because he is supposed to be the constitutional spokesman of the Conservative Party. On 19th May in the other place, he said:In my view, there is no case for a second chamber in the Scottish context. We would all agree that, if anything, there is too much politics and that there will be all sorts of layers of politicians in Scotland. To create yet another layer would not meet with the approval of the Scottish people, whatever form it might take and whatever its context and powers".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/5/98; col. 744.]I could not put it better myself. If the noble Lord does not listen to me, he might at least listen to his colleague who is supposed to be the spokesman on these matters in the other place.
The reason is clear when we look at the proposals for the parliament. Mr. Ancram conceded that other parliaments had unicameral legislatures, and those occur in countries with not dissimilar populations from that of Scotland—Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and others. That has to be considered. Moreover, if one looks at the proposals in the Bill and the White Paper, it is intended 1241 that the consultation process of the Scottish parliament will be infinitely superior to the consultation processes we have here at Westminster.
Every Bill will have a much longer pre-legislative stage, and post-legislative scrutiny will be much more substantial. That should be borne in mind. An important point is that it has been agreed that each session of the Scottish parliament will last for a fixed term of 4 years, and that Bills can be carried over—something that does not happen in this place. There will be more time to scrutinise legislation. There will be no need to rush up against a July or October deadline. That should give us more confidence that the scrutiny of legislation in a unicameral parliament will be better than it is here at Westminster.
For all those reasons, I believe that we would be wise not to accept the amendment. Throughout these Committee proceedings, certainly on these Benches, we may at times be in disagreement with the Government or in disagreement with the Conservative Party, but we start from the proposition that, when in doubt on any issue, we should leave matters to the Scottish parliament itself. In years to come, the Scottish parliament may well look at the suggestions, for example, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, on Second Reading, when she talked about the situation in Norway where the elected parliamentarians divide themselves into two groupings. That could be. Let us leave that to the Scottish parliament in the fullness of experience. In the meantime, let us press on with getting it, first, legislated, and then elected.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Lang of Monkton
I support the amendment and the proposal that there should be two chambers to the Scottish parliament. I was asking myself whether it was on cost or democratic grounds that the Government had rejected that option. I find it odd that they should reject it on democratic grounds since they have long complained that there was a democratic deficit so far as concerns Scotland. If indeed it is on the grounds of cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, suggested, I believe that cut-price democracy would lead to second rate legislation.
The very fact that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was able to point out how many amendments have been brought forward, not just by opposition parties but indeed by government themselves, and accepted, in this place over the years underlines the value of having a chance to reflect and revise legislation in a second chamber.
It has been suggested that without a second chamber there would be more time to consider legislation. That is an argument that cuts both ways. With a second chamber, the option of introducing legislation in that chamber and enabling it to pass down to the elected chamber applies.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, drew a comparison between the US Senate and Congress and what might happen in a Scottish parliament. I do not believe that that comparison is valid for a whole host of reasons which brief reflection would easily bring to the 1242 Committee's attention. A better comparison might be the relationship between the other place and this place. It is clear that the elected Chamber is the senior Chamber and that this Chamber is secondary to it. That is something that has been acknowledged repeatedly during our debates, not least yesterday.
As I understand it, the Government's arguments centre around three points. The first is the arrangements that exist in various Scandinavian countries. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish answered that point effectively. We should seek what we believe is best for us in the light of our experience, legislative customs, and what we believe would best allow for reflective and well-considered legislation.
The second argument is the proposal which we heard from the Government Benches on Second Reading and again just now from the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It is that there would be a far longer pre-legislative consultation period, and so legislation would be very much better before it reached the Scottish parliament. I am all in favour of pre-legislative consultation. Indeed, it was a feature of the White Paper, A Partnership for Good, which I laid before Parliament some years ago. It was then my intention that it should be done in the form of a special Standing Committee to take evidence from pressure groups and interested parties before all substantive Scottish legislation.
It was first used in Scotland in the context, as I recall, of the Children (Scotland) Bill. That Bill was the product of many detailed reports, inquiries, causes célèbres and other considerations. The Bill was the subject of extensive consultation before it went into Standing Committee. I do not believe that there is any evidence that the Act, as it finally appeared, has escaped the rigorous post-legislative analysis that so many Acts of Parliament receive, and which found shortcomings in it.
Nor do I believe that it is right to compare pre-legislative consultation with post-legislative consultation. Before legislation, debate is less focused than after legislation. Before legislation, it is a matter of listening to pressure groups and those with vested interests. Post-legislative consideration of legislation in a second chamber allows for a more objective and dispassionate view of the sections in an Act, and also one that is better informed by the arguments that have already taken place, and by the focus on the issues of the legislation that emerge during that period.
The third argument that the Government have advanced against a second chamber is that somehow politics are all going to be different in a new Scottish parliament: they are going to be more inclusive; more consensual; everyone will be less adversarial and more friendly. If the Committee believes that, it will believe anything. I believe that the politics are likely to be more acrimonious, especially if there is only one chamber. One of the benefits that this distinguished Chamber brings to legislation is that debates take place in a less adversarial and a less acrimonious atmosphere. That has led to a substantial improvement in legislation over the years.
1243 As to what form a second chamber would take, clearly there is here a huge debate which would have to be developed over a period of time, once the principle were accepted. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who was in his place today, suggested that the second tier of members—the proportionately elected members—might form the second chamber. That would be an economical way of approaching the matter, but it would not get away from the party list, and the party divisions, and it would replicate, largely, the elected component on a constituency basis in the parliament.
My noble friend Lord Mackay suggests that there should be two separate chambers. That implies a whole new raft of individuals and costs. Clearly, those considerations should be taken into account. I do not believe that the argument that this place should act as a second chamber of the Scottish parliament should be too easily dismissed. It is surely not beyond the wit of Members of this place and the Government to find a way in which the strong interest in the affairs of Scotland, as a component nation within the UK, should have the opportunity to find expression in consideration of Scottish legislation emerging from the Scottish parliament. Clearly, the balance of powers has to be addressed carefully. There would be no purpose in this place acting as a second chamber to override the elected chamber in Scotland, any more than it would ultimately override on important issues of legislation the views of the elected Chamber within these Houses of Parliament.
There is a possibility that this UK Parliament could continue to hold together the UK, so threatened by the Bill that we are debating. Every wall, every archway, and almost every panel in the building, carry on them the emblems of the countries that make up the UK. That is a reflection of the confidence that our Victorian forebears had in the role of these Houses of Parliament to reflect the interests of all the nations that form the UK. I do not believe that we should cast that aside lightly, as we are in danger of doing if we do not allow a second chamber to consider legislation in the Scottish parliament.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
I support the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others. I go slightly further in asking the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to withdraw the amendment in the interests of his party. I think it quite remarkable that the Second Reading debate was the first time that the idea of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament was advanced. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is right: we should not simply copy other legislatures. I do not believe that anyone on this side advocates that we copy one or other Scandinavian country just for its own sake. But the argument applies equally to Scotland vis-à-vis Westminster. The fact is that in so far as they could be consulted the Scottish people decided against having a second chamber. The Scottish convention was open to all to participate in. It is the most all-inclusive body I can recall. It went on forever and ever. The Scottish people decided that they did not want a second chamber.
1244 The Government's White Paper, published before the referendum, did not mention a second chamber. No groundswell of support for a second chamber was reflected in debates running up to the referendum. The Scottish people endorsed the White Paper fairly resoundingly in the referendum.
In the circumstances, for the noble Lord's amendment to be put forward now, effectively delaying the introduction of the Scottish parliament for a minimum of a year or two years, will be construed by the Scottish people, perhaps unfairly, as meaning that the Conservative Party has not changed its spots on the devolution issue. That would be tragic. It is a great pity that the Conservatives are not represented in Scotland. It is not in the interests of democracy. The Scotland Bill throws them a life saver. It pulls them back literally from the grave. Short of an absolute cataclysm, the proportional representation proposals will ensure that the Conservatives have a voice in a Scottish parliament which they have been unable to earn in Westminster by the first-past-the-post electoral principle.
I should have thought that all noble Lords opposite would consider it in their interests to demonstrate that the Conservative Party has reverted to the party, after all, of Ted Heath, who made the Declaration of Perth in 1978, and of the late Lord Home who chaired a constitutional committee. Some eminent members of the committee unfortunately have switched sides on the issue. At the time they were strongly pro-devolution. The Conservative Party has an honourable tradition of devolution.
§ 3.45 p.m.
The noble Lord is good enough to give way. I remind him that the body over which Lord Home presided recommended merely a deliberative assembly with limited legislative power; namely, to consider the Committee stage of Scottish Bills emanating from Westminster and statutory instruments but on both heads giving Westminster the last word. It was different altogether from what is proposed by the Bill.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
By no means am I suggesting that the recommendation was a precursor of this Bill. However, in the past the Conservative Party has shown itself more willing to accept devolution, even of a more modest nature, than would appear to be the case at present. I thought that things had changed. Regrettably, the amendment will be interpreted as an attempt by the Conservatives to delay the introduction of a Scottish parliament. That will do the Conservative Party in Scotland no good whatever.
I shall not go over what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. It is important to recognise that the parliament will operate differently from Westminster. Quite apart from having fixed terms, and being able to carry over legislation, an all-important and a self-denying factor on the part of the Labour Party putting it forward was the introduction of proportional representation. Until recently the Labour Party could have been assumed a landslide majority in Scotland. Instead of proposing the first-past-the-post system, the Labour Party quite deliberately put forward proportional representation, 1245 making it virtually impossible for any one party to govern without the co-operation of others. The absence of the adversarial principle, and the need for consensus to get any measure through, will make the Scottish parliament a very different body.
I fully agree with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Lang. The idea that people will suddenly become a lot nicer to each other is hard to believe. It is difficult to see the Scottish media accepting non-confrontational politics. But at least the structure is in place to encourage it. Let us hope that it is successful.
It is not in the interests of the Conservative Party to put forward the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will have second thoughts and withdraw it. But let us be clear. The Government White Paper did not mention a second chamber; the Scottish convention did not mention it. Introducing it at this stage will do neither the Conservative Party nor this House any good. I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
§ Lord Beloff
I find it difficult to accept advice to the Conservative Party from the other side of the Chamber. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes is one of the tags which lingers in most people's minds long after their schooling.
The point I wish to raise is a different one. Many references have been made to the experience of other countries. Scandinavian countries are emblazoned on the banners of the party opposite. I thought it would be of importance and interest to find out what another small country of great antiquity and culture was doing. I therefore left consideration yesterday of what I regard as the schools lowering of standards Bill and went to Chatham House to hear the newly elected president of the Czech Senate. The Czech Republic represents a cultural tradition in Europe as long as Scotland's. The Charles University was flourishing when the ancient Scottish universities, which are under such attack from Her Majesty's Government, were also flourishing.
What did I discover? When the Czechs emerged from communist domination, they created a new democratic constitution. It provided for two chambers, one to be elected by proportional representation—a chamber of deputies, if you like, or a lower house—and a senate. But for some years the Czechs did not proceed to the creation of the senate. However, given the difficulties they were running into with their single chamber government, a senate was then produced. It is an upper house, elected by the much better device of first past the post and therefore possessing greater democratic legitimacy than the lower house.
I heard the lecture along with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The powers in legislation are similar: both houses are involved in the legislative process. The important point is that constitutional changes—the electoral system, duration of legislatures—can take place only by agreement between the two houses. I believe that there is something to gained from that, as well as from the bleak wastes of Scandinavia.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
We are dealing with a matter of principle rather than the detail of what an upper or 1246 second house should be. I wish to stick entirely to the principle rather than the detail. I sympathise entirely with the amendment. It seems to me perfectly sound. I advise the Government not to oppose it, but to think carefully about it and, under whatever arrangements of consideration are devised, to bring back some form of scrutiny of legislation.
I say that because I have had experience of both Houses. I had only seven years in the other place but I have now had 20 years in this place. I am sure that the lower Chamber in our system is inadequate in its scrutiny of legislation.
It is not to be blamed for that. It is inadequate because of the burdens which are placed upon it, on the one hand, and because of the nature of the adversarial party conflict which prevails in the other place. Because of the adversarial nature of that conflict, scrutiny is not scrutiny about the Bill; in another place, scrutiny is always about politics in some way. I do not wish to be philosophical here. I am referring to party politics, which is wholly and entirely non-philosophical.
The results are quite clear. Legislation comes before us which is inadequate. It may be inadequate because of the shortcomings of the parliamentary draftsman, although I would not say that. It may well be due to the shortcomings of the instructions which they are given. They do their best to transfer those instructions into something in the nature of legislation. We know from experience that legislation that comes before us has been inadequately digested and scrutinised.
I do not know what the figures are. In this House we sometimes complain that the Government pay no attention to the amendments which we make. That is not true. Several hundred amendments go through from this House every Session. In fact, it may be more than a thousand every Session. Almost all of those amendments comes from the Government because they have realised how inadequate the legislation was and how inadequately it had been scrutinised in another place. They then try to put the matter right here. Those thousand or so amendments are usually accepted. There are the more exciting ones which are usually political in nature which cause a certain amount of fuss. We had some amusement just the other day. I voted with the Government then with my teeth gritted and my eyes shut. The Government were wrong, as they so often are. That is a feature of government. The party in government is almost always wrong.
However, the Government get the big picture right. In this case, the big picture is the Scottish parliament. I nearly used the dread word "assembly" but I just managed to avoid it. The Minister is looking at me cunningly. The Government get the big picture right but they then get the framework within which the big picture is supposed to function wrong. They have got it wrong here again.
This matter of scrutiny is essential to our system. The only way in which it can be done is by having a second Chamber of some kind. I shall not attempt to describe what that second Chamber should be like or even to think about it at this moment. I am sure that the noble 1247 Lord, Lord Mackay, will think about it for me and present some plan to me at which I shall be able to look with my normal gaze.
But the weakness in the proposal is that there is to be some kind of pre-legislative committee which will look at the legislation which is coming forward. After it has looked at it and presented it, it will then be passed. That sounds great if you are very naïve and young, as I am. But it is not wonderful because do not forget that the members of the pre-legislative committee will be the same people who will later pass legislation. If I know politicians—and I certainly do know them in view of the 45 years or so in which I have been in politics—I find it incredible to imagine that they will change their minds in a few months, if ever. If any Member of the Committee knows a politician who has changed his mind, perhaps he will tell me before we take a vote.
Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has a sound, pronounced, strong and irrefutable point. I plead with my colleagues on the Front Bench to harken to advice just this once. The Government have been in office for only a year or so and they have not listened to too much advice so far. However, the time is coming when advice must be heeded. I suggest that my noble friend begins now.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has breathed a breath of fresh air into this afternoon's discussion. I could not help wondering whether he is not, like myself, a Suez rebel manqué. In any event, he has been willing to challenge the view of his own side.
I turn now to the claim that what is before us has the blessing and even the benediction of the Scottish convention. That was a self-chosen body, worthy and eminent no doubt, but its members were not elected as far as I am aware. Therefore, their authority is at best empirical.
One aspect of the problem has not been raised so far and that is why I dare to rise to my feet. The previous Scottish parliament was a gathering of the Estates. The Estates did not by any means sit together. They represented different interests, including the higher echelons of the Church. The major boroughs had their representation. I wonder whether the reason that we still have right reverend Prelates in our House is not a relic of what was present in most medieval parliaments. Our own Parliament here began in the same way as the Scottish parliament, as a gathering of Estates.
Therefore, my main concern is not the merits of having a second Chamber but the fact that Scottish history is being ignored. I am not aware whether the Scottish Estates ever quarrelled with one another. I am not sure that they did. My research has been rather inadequate in that regard. However, there were separate Estates which did not always sit together, and nor did they always sit at the same time. That was a feature also of medieval parliaments of England.
Therefore, the case for a second Chamber is not something to be laughed out of court. It can be extracted from Scotland's own indigenous history, and on that 1248 ground, as well as the grounds already advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My noble friend Lord Howie asked whether we could show him a politician who had changed his mind. The mover of the amendment changed his mind. My good friend the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, laughs. We have had extensive experience of Scottish politics. I can recall the days when the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was a Liberal candidate. He changed to become a Conservative candidate to win the seat, only to be defeated at the next election by a Liberal candidate. However, that is all in the past.
I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, about the whole question of the Scottish Constitutional Convention that if we should not laugh out of court—and I do not believe we should—the proposal for a second Chamber, we should most certainly not laugh out of court the standing of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. My experience of that body—sharing the chairmanship with the noble Lord, Lord Steel—was that it was held in the highest regard by the people of Scotland and was recognised as a cross-party group, albeit that it excluded the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party. But there were people from all sections of Scottish opinion working together to produce the document which it eventually produced, Towards Scotland's Parliament.
I suspect that we are today at the beginning of a fairly detailed and long debate. I do not mean that that debate is just for today; indeed, it will be a long debate during the months and years ahead about whether we should have single chamber government in Scotland or whether we should have a second chamber. In his contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that the Scottish Constitutional Convention considered the whole question of a second chamber. That is absolutely accurate, there are no "ifs" or "buts" about it. The convention, under my chairmanship at that date, made its position clear when it rejected the proposal for a second chamber.
I am still strongly connected to the convention, although I no longer share the chairmanship with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because that honour now rests with my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. I do not want to pretend or give your Lordships the impression that somehow or other during my time with the convention I thought that a second chamber would be a good idea. But one of my great weaknesses is that I keep thinking and sometimes my thoughts overtake those that I had a few years ago. Sometimes that leads to inconsistencies in my own approach to particular policies. Indeed, it leads me to the position today where I honestly believe that we should not decide the issue today. I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will not want the issue decided today because it is far too important to decide on the basis of a debate lasting an hour or so. We need to give the matter the most serious consideration before we come to a decision as to whether or not there should be a second chamber. However, that is not an excuse, far less a reason, for 1249 delaying the implementation of the Scottish parliament. That parliament is due to be up and running by July 1999, and nothing should stand in the way of it meeting for the first time in July of next year.
I have given some serious consideration to whether or not we should have a bicameral system in Scotland. I do not wish to be dogmatic. I am not imposing my views on anyone; indeed, I am just expressing my views and they may well be rejected and described as nonsense. Nevertheless, that has never stopped me expressing my views in the past and I do not propose to cease doing so today.
I believe that we should have an extensive debate on the matter. I do not like the idea contained in one of the noble Lord's amendments; namely, that we should have a commission. The first job of any appointed commission is to look for the next job. I have never really been in favour of such commissions being appointed. After all, we are all mature enough as politicians to decide the issue over the years ahead.
I have looked at the situation which has developed in Scotland, particularly over the past 8 months since the referendum. I say openly and publicly that one of the great mistakes that my party made in Scotland was sharing a joint platform with the Scottish National Party. When the BBC asked me whether I would share a platform on a television programme with the SNP people, I made it absolutely clear that they had played no part in the convention and that I would not share a platform with them. All we did as a party during the referendum was to throw a lifeline to a party that was dying on its feet. It did not have a good result in the general election in Scotland on 1st May 1997; indeed, it achieved 22 per cent. of the vote while in actual fact it was looking for something like 30 per cent. or 34 per cent. But we revived that party by agreeing to share platforms. Today we see the net result of shared platforms.
I have seen all the opinion polls in the past. I was telling some of my colleagues that, 12 weeks before the 1979 general election, one of Scotland's national newspapers, which I will not name to save it embarrassment, published an opinion poll. It then got the professor of politics at Strathclyde University to extrapolate the poll and then published a front-page headline stating that the SNP was going to win 44 seats at the forthcoming general election. However, if the late Donald Stewart, a much respected Scottish National Party Member for the Western Isles, had not held on to his seat at that time, the SNP would have been completely wiped out in Scotland. The party lost 10 of the 11 seats that it had held just 12 weeks after that opinion poll was published.
So I am not taken in by opinion polls. Nevertheless, I am worried about the unity of the United Kingdom. That leads me to leave with your Lordships my thoughts on a second chamber and how it should be comprised. It is my view that one of our duties is to ensure that a Scottish parliament is viewed in the way we have always intended; namely, as devolved, not independent or separate. The way to ensure that we present it as devolved is to link it inextricably with Westminster, on the one hand, and with Europe on the other.
1250 Therefore, it is my view that a second chamber should be comprised of the elected Scottish Members of Parliament in the other House, and the eight elected Scottish Members of the European Parliament. Those Members would cost nothing. People worry about the costs involved, but they are already being paid. Those Members would comprise the second chamber. In that process we would link Edinburgh, Westminster and Europe all together. That process would also have another effect. People ask me for the answer to the West Lothian question: "Why can I vote for education in Blackburn, Lancashire, as a Scottish MP, but I cannot vote for education in Blackburn, West Lothian?". They would be able to vote on education in Blackburn, West Lothian, and that would also answer the West Lothian question.
I do not believe that we will decide the issue today—at least, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will not push the matter to a vote. The noble Lord has done Scotland in particular, and the United Kingdom in general, a service by initiating this debate. It is a debate that we can take forward in a constructive fashion. That is why it is important that we do not take such decisions today; indeed, we must not lock ourselves in and compartmentalise ourselves. We must continue the discussion that has been rightly started by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as month follows month, and possibly in two or three years' time we will return to the issue.
If we are to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom—and for me that is paramount—the last thing I want to see is an independent Scotland. The last thing I want to see is separation. Nationalism is the most dangerous force in politics. I shall never forget the late Willy Brandt. While I was with the Council of Europe, he came to a Commission meeting and used the phrase that the "graveyards of Europe were littered with the victims of nationalism". We need nationalism like a hole in the head. If we need institutions that prevent us wandering into that kind of situation, we should be prepared to discuss them openly. For that reason, I am grateful that this amendment has been tabled and discussed. However, I plead with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, not to push the matter to a vote today. This is neither the day nor the time to make a decision on such a vitally important issue.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I shall be very brief. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has, not for the first time, made a very important contribution to our debate. He thinks about these matters a lot, as indeed does the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. I hope that the Government are listening. These are not all-party political issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, will discover during his time in this House. I am sure that he will make an excellent contribution to our future debates.
Those of us who have been here a long time know that legislation has to be tested. The policy within it has to be tested and so does the wording. It needs to be tested more than once. We have been doing this for 1251 years. We know what would have happened to our legislation in this country if we had not been here. We can feel that.
Civil servants and Ministers are not always right. Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, are small places. Everyone knows everyone. The civil servants all know each other. They will know the members of the Scottish parliament and the members of the Scottish parliament will know them. Everyone will know the Ministers well. For all its new arrangements, can we be sure that this parliament will be able to stand up to its administration? Will the administration be able to stand up to its civil servants? I do not think for a moment that my noble friend, in moving this amendment, was trying to delay the establishment of the Scottish parliament. That, with respect, is a rather despicable suggestion.
It is reasonable to have this debate. It has been a good debate. I expect it is nearly over. Other great affairs of state are about to be discussed in this Chamber and we do not wish to delay them. I hope that the Government will think of some way out of this problem. The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, may be a good one. I was attracted to it when I first heard it. I believe it could have a good secondary effect as well as a good primary effect by linking the parliament to the constitution in a way that is acceptable to the people of Scotland. I believe that would be acceptable. We may need a specially created body. A reformed House of Lords may contain a structure which could meet in Scotland to do that job. There are a number of ways it could be done.
I believe that over the summer—if not before—the Government should think hard about this matter. The fact that this suggestion has not been made previously is surely because it has not been considered by this Chamber. We are the people who know about scrutinising legislation. Other people do not worry about it. They do not necessarily know what goes on here. I hope that the Government will think about this matter. I hope that my noble friend will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, at this stage and withdraw the amendment to enable the Government to consider it.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I seek a little clarification following what the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has said. I refer to the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Did the Conservatives, particularly the Conservative Peers, and, more particularly, the independent Peers, ever have a chance to take part in the Scottish Constitutional Convention? I am certainly not aware that the independent Peers did. Could that be clarified?
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will allow me to answer the question. The question is easily answered. Every person in Scotland was invited to attend the original meeting that set up the Scottish Constitutional Convention. All our meetings were held in public. People joined us as we went along, whether they were Conservative, SNP, Labour, non-political, members of Churches, trade unions, the 1252 CBI or the Federation of Small Businesses. Many people came on board. The invitation was open to everyone to join.
§ 4.15 p.m.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, generously suggested that this matter merits a full discussion. I wonder therefore if I may presume to extend it a little. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, wisely asked the Government to consider carefully what we are putting forward in view of his 35 years' experience in Parliament. Dare I say I have had 53 years' experience in Parliament, most of that involved with legislation in one way or another?
The first point that I feel it is necessary for us to get right is the following. To what extent should we rely upon the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which was an advisory body? Parliament receives advice from various bodies such as Royal Commissions, specially appointed departmental committees and outside bodies of various kinds. We do not accept that advice more than about 50 per cent. of the time. We have to decide these matters within our own responsibility. We cannot delegate that responsibility merely by saying, "Someone else has decided this. They may be right so we ought to accept that". That is not the spirit in which we legislate.
I warmly support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I suggest that to have a second chamber would add to the value and importance of a Scottish legislature. I say that for the simple reason that in this long-established Westminster Parliament goodness knows how things would have gone without the revising powers of your Lordships' House. In Scotland we have to remember that they will start off with various disadvantages compared with the position that we have. In the first place—dare I say it?—most of the members of the new Scottish parliament in what is to be called the lower chamber (if we are to have a second chamber) will have had little, if any, parliamentary experience. Some will. Some of my noble friends will stand for that parliament and their contributions will be valuable. But we have to remember that to a great extent it will be a body of people who are tiros, inexperienced in parliamentary matters. How will they be advised on legislation? Of course the Scottish parliamentary draftsmen at present have a great reputation. I dare to say that often Scottish legislation compares favourably with that governing the United Kingdom as a whole.
However, the Scottish draftsmen will have to continue to advise the Scottish Office when legislation which affects Scotland passes through our Parliament at Westminster. There will be quite a lot of that. The Scottish parliamentary draftsmen are not over-manned at the moment. New draftsmen will have to be found and trained. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is the Minister responsible for that. It 1253 would be interesting to hear in due course—I do not say necessarily on this amendment—whether he can give us some idea of the number of parliamentary draftsmen who will be needed for a new Scottish parliament. That would be very helpful.
With those limitations and difficulties, surely it would be wise to have a revising chamber. There is just one further point. One of my noble friends said there would be no delay. I am afraid that there will necessarily be some delay in order to ask the body to be appointed by the Prime Minister of the day—after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition—to consider, under these amendments, the composition of a second chamber. It is right that great care should be taken over the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, was right in saying that this is not a matter that we should rush into. We should consider it very carefully. We should make provisions in the Bill of the kind proposed by my noble friend Lord Mackay, which ensure that it is done carefully. I hope the Government will give the matter serious consideration. We shall be making history for Scotland with this Bill. We have to make it the best legislation that we can.
I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. An outside commitment overran, so I did not hear his speech. I shall read it tomorrow.
At Second Reading, I expressed the opinion that a revising chamber was a desirable thing. That is not surprising. My long membership in Parliament has been entirely in this House. So I have seen the merits of a revising chamber—provided that it confines itself to being a revising chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, made a slight mistake in attributing the Norway suggestion to my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. I made that suggestion during my Second Reading speech. I believe I am correct in saying that she gave it not unfavourable consideration.
No matter how much a Bill may be discussed in one House, it nearly always seems to need amendment. The Bill before us today is no exception. I have looked at it roughly, and find that at least 25 amendments have been tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Sewel, and not all are merely drafting amendments. Some are quite serious, particularly those in relation to reserve powers. So we have a demonstration in relation to the very Bill that we are discussing of the merits of having a different group of people to examine the legislation. The Norway example is one possibility. However, that would be a matter for the Scottish parliament to decide.
We have limited experience here at Westminster of single-chamber government. We had it for a short period under Oliver Cromwell, who abolished the House of Lords. However, before very long he decided he had made a mistake and set it up again.
I cannot support the amendment, although I believe that in the long run the government in Scotland would be better if it, too, had a revising chamber. But that must be a matter for the Scottish parliament. In this country we do not know how a single-chamber parliament would work in modern times. We must accept that there are 1254 many countries in the world, including the English-speaking world, where a single chamber seems to work effectively.
I therefore suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, should accept the provision, if it is certain that it would be within the powers of the Scottish parliament to divide itself into two or to recommend a separate elected chamber. However, I am certain that it would not wish to have a second chamber that was other than a revising chamber and with no rights to insist against the will of the other house.
The real merit of this place is that we can examine legislation and do not always arrive at the same political conclusions as Members of another place. Four of my noble friends have spoken on the Bill; three have given support to a revising chamber in one form or another. I would not go so far as my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon in inviting the Government to consider accepting the amendment. However, one of my colleagues was wholehearted in his opposition. He rather over-egged the pudding. He said that the people of Scotland had voted emphatically against a second chamber. I doubt if there was one in 10,000 people who voted for a Scottish parliament who had any idea as to whether it should have one or two chambers. What people wanted was not separation, but a parliament to look after their rights.
I suggest that it would be wise to leave this matter to the body which will meet for the first time, as my noble friend suggested. Let us leave it to the parliament to decide whether the one chamber is working as well as it would like, or whether it would prefer something else. I am certain that its members would not want to rush into any change. They would want to approach the matter with due consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, suggested long consideration. I suggest that on this particular matter the right place for that long consideration is Edinburgh.
§ Lord Rowallan
I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Ewing. He has apparently come up with a suggestion which, apart from anything else, gets round the West Lothian question. However, we must also pay attention to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. He is involved with the media and therefore keeps in close contact with what the Scottish people are saying. I have to disagree with my noble friends Lord Lang and Lady Carnegy of Lour. This House would be totally inappropriate as a second chamber for the Scottish parliament. The Scottish people have voted unanimously for a parliament and laws in Scotland, not in England. That is the reason the parliament is being set up in the first place. Therefore, it is my strong belief that they are wrong.
I venture to say, perhaps rather facetiously, that one of the reasons why a second chamber has not been discussed until this moment is that the other place does not understand what this House does. It is not until Members from the other end of the building come through to this end that they understand the importance of a revising chamber and the process of the law that we conduct in this place.
1255 I hope that there will be a second chamber in Scotland. It is very important that that happens. However, we must not stop the movement towards the implementation of the parliament. Its success is paramount if we are to have a continued United Kingdom. Any delay will be seen as procrastination on our part and will go against everything that we are trying to do to keep the country united.
I therefore strongly recommend this as the right idea, but we should write into the Bill a provision whereby the parliament itself has to form a second chamber—by the means suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, or by any other means that we come up with. But we must consider this issue. It would be a great mistake to allow the Scottish parliament to be set up without any sort of revising chamber being a possibility.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
Before my noble friend sits down, he might agree with me that the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, answers only half of the West Lothian question. If I remember correctly, the Member of Parliament for Blackburn in Lothian can vote on a matter that affects Blackburn in Lancashire, but cannot vote on a matter possibly affecting schools in Blackburn, Lothian. That will be the situation. Given the noble Lord's suggestion of constituting a second chamber from Members in the other place, that wrong would be corrected. However, if the Member of Parliament for Blackburn in Lancashire cannot vote on a matter affecting a school in Blackburn in Lothian although the Member of Parliament for West Lothian can, that part of the question is not answered.
§ Lord Desai
I very much sympathise with the idea that the question of a second chamber has to be discussed, and will be discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned the suggestion that the Scottish parliament could make itself into two different sections, one to be a revising body.
What is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in particular in Amendment No. 7, need not delay the formation of a Scottish parliament if we decouple that and say that within five years the Prime Minister will appoint a commission to examine the question of a second Chamber for the Scottish parliament. Constitutional reforms have previously been passed by the Westminster Parliament for countries which became independent. I could give examples, but I shall not do so. It would be easy to say that the Scottish parliament should start on time and should have five or 10 years in which to deliberate, within which time it might itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested, citing the example of the Czech Republic, decide to have a second Chamber. Perhaps the Prime Minister of the day could appoint a commission to consider the question of a second Chamber for the Scottish parliament. That commission might arrive at a decision yea or nay, but we can leave that for a later day and return to this question when we have had experience of the Scottish parliament as a unicameral Chamber. It need not all be done at once.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
It is clear that we have had a well-measured and constructive debate on this important amendment. It is right that we should take time to explore the arguments on both sides of the case. I have to say though that today is not the best of days to try to persuade me of the value of a second Chamber!
The debate concerns two, often closely related, concepts, those of function and structure. I do not believe that anything divides us on function. There is complete agreement on the need to have a parliamentary structure in which there is proper and robust scrutiny of legislation. The difference between us is on the appropriate and best structure to fulfil that function.
I do not believe, and the Government do not believe, that it is necessary to have a separate second Chamber, following the Westminster model of your Lordships' House, in order to achieve the appropriate and necessary degree of scrutiny. I believe it is valuable to try to move away from the Westminster mind-set and to recognise that there are other ways of organising a legislature.
During the 20 years or so when we were debating this issue in Scotland, there was a growing awareness that it was not appropriate to follow slavishly the procedures and processes that exist in this Parliament. The opportunity arose to try to come up with different types of solutions to what were seen as common and shared problems. That is what happened during the process of the Constitutional Convention.
I appreciate that noble Lords opposite were not part of the Constitutional Convention, and I make no comment about that. Their party thought it was inappropriate to be part of that process. I think it would have been enormously valuable if they had shared in that, but they did not, and that was their choice.
Through the Constitutional Convention, which was widely based, the issue of scrutiny was addressed in great detail, as my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford indicated and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, described. On page 24 of its report, Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right, it is made absolutely clear that in the convention's view a second Chamber is not necessary in order to provide for proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have built upon that consensus. I see nothing wrong in a government building upon consensus, especially consensus that has been built up over time and has been the product of debate, probing and scrutiny.
It was that thinking that lay behind the detailed recommendations that the Government put to the people of Scotland in the White Paper at the time of the referendum. I believe that the people of Scotland are aware—indeed, more than aware—of the basic shape of the proposals that were put to them in the White Paper at that time. It was clear that the Scottish parliament was to be a unicameral parliament and was not to have a second Chamber.
My noble friend Lord Howie of Troon invited me to hearken to and heed the siren voices in favour of a second Chamber. I say to my noble friend that I have 1257 greater confidence in listening to the voices, and indeed the votes, of the Scottish people in the referendum which gave their decision.
Throughout my involvement and engagement with the devolution issue in Scotland, I have not been aware of any sustained support for the idea of a second Chamber. Over the 20 years or so, the idea has come up from time to time but has quickly disappeared. It is not a concept that enjoys support in Scotland.
I disagree with my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford. I do not think that institutions should be established in order to prevent certain political objectives from being achieved. Like my noble friend, I am totally opposed to the idea of nationalism as a political creed and to separation as a policy objective. But I do not think that it is right somehow to construct the institutions of the parliament to prevent that. Again, I am prepared to put my faith and my confidence in the people of Scotland. At the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that, if the people of Scotland, through whatever process is decided appropriate, opt for independence or separation, then that is their right and I have to accept it, although I disagree with it. We do not get anywhere by trying to construct institutions that will be seen as artificially thwarting it.
I now turn to the details of the amendments. The amendments are in fact devoid of detail, which is important. They refer to the setting up of a commission but are silent on the issues of the powers of the second Chamber and its composition and membership. It took us 20 years to reach a broadly agreed position on the powers and composition contained in the present proposals. I wonder how long it would take such a commission to reach agreement on the powers and composition of a second Chamber.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Gordon that support for this amendment runs the risk—I put it no stronger than that—of being interpreted in Scotland as a means of delaying the implementation of the Scottish parliament. That is something that those who wish to support the amendment will have to take into account when they make their decision. We made clear in the White Paper and subsequently that there is a timetable; that a clock is running. We said that the elections would take place in the first half of 1999. We said that the parliament would be up and running by the year 2000. We now intend to bring that date forward on the basis of agreement among the various political parties. The passing of this amendment as it stands would clearly delay the implementation of the Scottish parliament. I believe that the people of Scotland would find that difficult to understand.
We have had a number of important contributions based on the legislative process—how we can improve and have the most appropriate form of legislation; how it should proceed through parliament. I make one comment on that. I will trust the parliament. Let the parliament decide the processes it wishes to adopt. I believe that we will have a grown-up, mature parliament for a grown-up, mature country. Let us recognise that it is the right of that parliament to decide its own processes and proceedings.
1258 Throughout the whole of the debate on the role and function of the Scottish parliament there was the greatest determination in every group of which I was a member—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and my noble friend Lord Ewing will agree—to ensure that the parliament adopted procedures which delivered robust scrutiny in the most effective way possible.
The proposals before the Committee have not come out of the ether overnight. They have been developed on the basis of negotiation, discussion and consensus-building over several years. It would be difficult for the people of Scotland to understand the major change in the structure of the parliament which these amendments involve, and much more so a delay in the introduction of the parliament.
Let me deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in relation to other countries. As the noble Lord said, the Nordic countries—Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, which we all accept are mature, effective, functioning democracies—have unicameral democracies. We do not cite them in any way to argue that we should slavishly follow them. We say that it shows that there can be mature and effective democracies, mature and effective parliaments that are unicameral. If it works in that context, in the context of the vast majority of the Germany Länder and in the context of New Zealand, why should it not work in the context of Scotland?
I make one further reference. The structure for the future government of Northern Ireland enjoys widespread support in this Chamber and between the parties generally. The legislative assembly that is to be established in Northern Ireland is a unicameral parliament and I have heard no argument against that during the whole of the discussions on the future structure of the government of Northern Ireland. Therefore, we have seen already that there is acceptance that in the United Kingdom unicameral legislation is compatible with the way in which we have arranged our political affairs.
There are many ways in which the Scottish parliament will be able to adapt its internal structures and procedures to ensure that there is proper and appropriate scrutiny of the legislation and of the executive itself. We have had an exceedingly good debate on the issue and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to all Members Of the Committee who took part in this debate and to the Minister for his reply. When I read Hansard, his words in relation to a "mature parliament" will come back and no doubt will be used to haunt him as we go through the Bill. For example, we may well throw his words back at him when we come to Clause 33, among others. However, we will leave that matter until later.
The noble Lord made much of the fact that there was no sustained support in Scotland for a second chamber. I do not believe that there is much sustained opposition either. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who seems to have had the notes to defend the Minister on this issue, said that the Scottish people decided not to have a 1259 second chamber. I was not aware that they had ever been asked, which was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I do not believe they were ever asked. The ballot paper I had contained two questions and a second chamber did not figure in either of them.
We should not allow the Government to hide behind the defence that the question was not asked; therefore it was not answered; and therefore we should not debate it. Nor do I want to hear an argument from the Government, every time we come to a serious amendment, that somehow or other we are attempting to delay the passage of the Bill. I accept that there is a clock ticking towards the end date. I made it perfectly clear that we accept the result of the referendum and the Government's right to take this Bill through Parliament, to implement it and to have the election and the setting up of the parliament on the date they fix. But I hope that every time we come to an amendment we do not hear that we are simply trying to find ways of delaying the passage of the Bill. If the clock is ticking a bit late in the day, it is because it is taking the Government rather a long time to get the Bill into the Committee stage of your Lordships' Chamber. That is not my doing.
§ Lord Sewel
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not accusing Members opposite of seeking to delay the Bill. I am saying that, if the amendment was passed, it would inevitably delay the implementation and coming into force of the Scottish parliament. That is a different matter.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I accept the distinction, but I believe there was a suggestion in relation to the "ticking clock" that the amendments and discussion on them would inevitably delay the Bill. I accept that the last amendment in the group would have that effect, though I did not intend that. Frankly, as this is very much a probing and opening up of the debate, it would not take more than a few minutes to re-phrase the amendments in order to allow the Scottish parliament to start but to make provision for a second chamber.
The Government should listen to what is being said, not just from this side of the Chamber but also from their own Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, intervened to tell us how I have changed my mind. He keeps saying that. But he went on to say that there was great virtue in changing one's mind. It shows that one has enough brains to have second thoughts. The noble Lord said that he felt this was an important issue and should be discussed and decided, not necessarily before the Scottish parliament is up and running but through some provision allowing it to be discussed in the initial years. That was a view supported by the noble Lord, Lord Desai.
There is a broadly based body of opinion therefore that believes that a second chamber is worth a great deal more consideration than it has been given to date. I fully accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, that the powers of that second chamber would have to be considered. Indeed, my amendment refers to the powers and composition of a second chamber. I fully accept that in America the Senate has moved from being a revising chamber to being arguably the driving chamber, the most powerful 1260 chamber. That is something I would not recommend, nor do I recommend it for any reform of this Chamber. These are difficult matters. The fact that the Government have not come forward with proper proposals for the reform of your Lordships' Chamber tells us that these matters are not easy to resolve: nor are they in the Scottish context.
I welcome the views from around the Chamber, with one or two exceptions, that there is merit in considering the proposition that we ought to have a second chamber in order to deal with Scottish legislation and the Scottish parliamentary situation. I am not of the view, as are some people—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, hopes for this—that it will all be sweetness and light. My noble friend Lord Lang said that he felt it might be more, not less, acrimonious. Certainly, if Scottish politics at the moment are anything to go by, it is pretty rough. Unfortunately, I have to say that my party and indeed the party of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, are slightly on the sidelines of the roughness, but there is a fair degree of roughness between the governing party and the Scottish National Party. However, we shall have more of that later. I am aware that many of your Lordships wish to get on to the important defence Statement.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
There is nothing like reading the mood of your Lordships' House.
We have had an excellent debate. We have expressed to the Government from all sides that there is merit in considering the case for a second chamber. I simply say this to the Government. Given the timetable, I accept that it would probably be almost impossible to devise a second chamber solution which would be up and running before 1st May. But we all ought to reflect on how we could incorporate in the Bill a provision for a second chamber to be considered by the Scottish parliament and by this Parliament thereafter so that in two or three years' time we would be able, if we wished, to put in place a second chamber. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.