HL Deb 16 July 1998 vol 592 cc439-52

7.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Turner of Camden) in the Chair.]

Schedule 3 [Standing orders—further provision]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 122:

Page 61, line 37, after ("committees") insert ("to address subjects relevant to the Parliament and").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 122 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 128. Schedule 3 to the Bill already indicates that standing orders will provide for parliamentary committees. However, the additional words, to address subjects relevant to the Parliament and", enable a clearer focus. The proper functioning of parliamentary committees is clearly vital to the Holyrood parliament and its executive. The better parliamentary committees perform, the more opportunity there will be for parliamentarians to influence policy and decision-making.

Equally, the more comprehensive the structure of these parliamentary committees in the first place, the healthier the balance thus encouraged within Holyrood between parliamentarians and the executive. Yet in this context, the Bill's provisions for committees is too general. No proper committee structure is indicated. As drafted in Schedule 3 such committees need not necessarily address subjects relevant to the parliament. The purpose of Amendment No. 122 is to put right that omission.

I turn now to Amendment No. 128. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Bill indicates that standing orders shall provide committees and in appointing members to committees and sub-committees they shall pay regard to the balance of parties in parliament. That ensures correctly that political membership of committees will reflect the respective strengths of parties elected to parliament.

However, it may often be helpful to parliamentary committees and their work to include people who may not be members of the parliament. Such people may well have great knowledge of the subject under discussion in a committee. It would be up to the parliament and committee concerned to invite to be a member of a committee a person who was not a member of the parliament. If the co-option of such a person on the committee were perceived to infringe the standing orders provision for maintaining political balance on committees, then clearly that person would not be co-opted in the first place.

Clearly, it is the business of the parliament and its committees to assess what does and does not infringe the provisions for maintaining political balance on committees. Yet since much of the work on committees is to discuss ideas and to promote policies without necessarily making decisions on them in committee, then co-option of committee members need not infringe rules on political balance. However, if in any event the composition of committees is a matter for the Holyrood parliament to handle as it sees fit, in order for it to do so with greater flexibility the Bill's standing orders require Amendment No. 128 as proposed. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My noble friend has a point and I welcome him to the debate. I wonder whether he expected to be debating the first amendment at five past seven in the evening. It is intolerable that in the Government's programme the third day of the Committee stage of this vitally important Bill, as I understood it to be, should not start until five past seven. We might have lived with that were it not for the fact that the second Committee day on Tuesday did not start until ten past six.

I wish to take this opportunity to say that I do not consider either Tuesday or today to be full Committee days. Therefore, the clear undertaking that I gave on Second Reading—that we would not hinder the Bill and that I wanted to see the Committee stage completed before the Summer Recess—is dependent on the Government finding at least another day to compensate for the two half-days we have lost. I wish to place on record the fact that I believe that to be intolerable. As I understand it, next Tuesday will be exactly the same: we have business before the Bill which may go on for some time. I hope that the Government realise that I do not consider today a full Committee day; nor did I consider Tuesday a full Committee day.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, replies to my noble friend, perhaps I may stress that tonight we are required to consider the legislative powers of the new parliament. That is the most important part of the Bill. That we should be considering the issue at a late hour on Thursday night, when in the nature of things we shall not have a very full attendance and when there is so much detail to discuss, is intolerable. The Government have tabled a number of important amendments which we must consider carefully. Schedules 4 and 5 run to 21 pages. It is intolerable that we should have to start at this time.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I, too, am concerned about the time we are starting the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Renton pointed out, we are starting to debate one of the most important parts of the Bill; certainly a part to which Members of the Committee should be giving the closest scrutiny. As we discovered late on Tuesday night, the Government are unclear about the extent to which, and in what circumstances, the judiciary is to be involved in the workings of the parliament. We are beginning to debate the standing orders of the parliament. There are other important matters which we shall wish to discuss at some length and with some care: for example, whether during the proceedings of the Scottish parliament, unlike the Westminster Parliament, it would be open to members who took exception to the way in which the proceedings were going to withdraw from the parliament and ask the courts to reach a decision on what is required by the standing orders.

I regard that to be a very important matter. Because it is so different from the way in which matters proceed in the Westminster Parliament, we ought to be able to examine it carefully. It is intolerable that we are beginning this chapter on a Thursday evening some time after seven o'clock. As my noble friend Lord Mackay has indicated, that would be bad enough in any circumstances, but it is impossible given that we suffered much the same problem on Tuesday.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

That is another five minutes gone! I agree that the situation is intolerable, but perhaps the Minister too feels that it is intolerable. At least, I hope and believe that he does and that he will do his best to correct matters.

I believe that the two amendments are unnecessary. Amendment No. 128 is certainly flawed in that although one can have expert witnesses and expert advisers, it would be unsuitable to have non-members of parliament as voting members of a committee. Therefore, I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carter

Although I was out of the Chamber when the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, first spoke, I was watching the proceedings on the screen and came here in a hurry. I entirely understand what he is saying and I sympathise. He will understand my problem as Chief Whip. I have been given a Northern Ireland Bill as a part of the peace process. As we all know, that Bill must receive Royal Assent before we break for the Summer Recess. We agreed through the usual channels when we would break for the summer. We can find time to finish the Committee stage in the first week of August, as the noble Lord knows, but I entirely understand his wish not to do so.

I apologise for the time at which we are starting the Bill tonight. The Bill is important, but the fact is that I have had to juggle the Northern Ireland Bill against this Bill. We have more time—until eleven o'clock tonight, which is another two-and-a-half hours away. However, I understand how the noble Lord feels. It is a matter for the usual channels. We offered extra time in the first week of August. The noble Lord decided not to take that, which I understand. I think that the best thing now is to get on with the Bill and to see what progress we make. I suspect that we shall keep on talking about it from now until 31st July.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Sewel

With Amendment No. 122, the noble Earl is attempting to restrict the parliament to setting up committees which, in his words, address subjects relevant to the Parliament". I am not sure how the noble Earl would define what is "relevant" to the parliament. I suspect he means that committees should be able to discuss only devolved matters. This would, of course, be an unacceptable restriction of the parliament's day-to-day working.

The Government intend that the Scottish parliament will be able to debate the full range of issues which are of interest and concern in Scotland, whether devolved or reserved, just as this House debates issues about which it does not legislate. The parliament will also be able to investigate any matter, also including reserved matters, through its committees. It will be for the parliament itself to decide on its committee structure and what powers and functions they should be given.

With this Bill, we are creating a framework in which the Scottish parliament will be expected to operate. The noble Earl's amendment, is I am afraid, unwarranted interference in the proper decision-making powers of the parliament. How the parliament operates within the framework that we are establishing is a matter for the parliament to decide.

With Amendment No. 128, the noble Earl is intending to pave the way for non-MSPs to be members of the committees. The Government believe that it is right that the Scottish parliament's committees and sub-committees will be composed of members of the parliament. Special provision is made in the Bill for the case where the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General are not members of the parliament, but that is an exception. They need to be able to participate in the proceedings of the parliament because they are Scottish Ministers.

Apart from that special provision, we consider it appropriate that only members should have the right to deliberate and vote when committees take decisions. It is difficult to see how it could be otherwise. MSPs will be accountable to the electorate for all their actions. I raise the question, simply and bluntly: who would non-members be accountable to?

However, as we made clear in the White Paper, we want the Scottish parliament to be accessible, open and responsive. Involvement by organisations and individuals in decision making will be encouraged and advice from specialists will be sought as appropriate. But that is fundamentally different from being full members of the committees and sub-committees of the parliament.

The contribution which non-MSPs could make to the work of the parliament and how best to organise this is being considered by the Consultative Steering Group chaired by my honourable friend Henry McLeish, the Minister responsible for devolution. The CSG has commissioned research on the experience of other parliaments. We are looking to deliver imaginative, innovative solutions as to how non-MSPs can become involved in the work of the parliament to ensure that the parliament has access to a wide range of expertise and opinion when considering an issue. But—and this is the important point—that must be in ways which do not blur the accountability of MSPs for the decisions of the parliament. Therefore, we are keen to involve outside organisations in the parliament in appropriate ways but I believe that the way offered by the noble Earl is fundamentally misconceived. I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Scottish parliament will be able to discuss all issues which arise in Scotland. In the event of a Scottish parliament taking a view on a reserved matter, would I be right in thinking that the parliament will be able to pass a resolution and then send that resolution to the Parliament of the United Kingdom? Has any procedure yet been thought of as to how such resolutions would be received by the UK Parliament?

Lord Sewel

My understanding is that the parliament would just take a view on a reserved matter and that would be the end of the matter.

The Earl of Dundee

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee for their contribution and to the Minister for what he said. I acknowledge that my amendments are probing amendments. What I had in mind was to listen to what the Minister had to say about his interpretation of the provisions of the Bill with regard to ensuring a balance between parliamentarians and the executive in the committee structure arising from the standing orders in Schedule 3.

The Minister reassured us that all subjects relevant to the parliament will in fact be considered by parliamentarians within the committee structure as matters already stand. I accept the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that if we followed the route of co-opting persons who were not members of the parliament, this would then risk producing two classes of citizen on the committees: those who voted and those who did not vote. With those various comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I must remind the Committee that if Amendment No. 123 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 because of pre-emption.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 123:

Page 61, leave out lines 38 to 43.

The noble Lord said: I move this amendment and speak to other amendments in place of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood.

The structure of this particular part of the Bill is interesting, particularly for those of us who have been involved with the Government of Wales Bill where the setting out of standing orders and committees is gone into much more fully. In this Bill, Clause 21 merely provides that: The proceedings of the Parliament shall be regulated by standing orders", in accordance with Schedule 3. In Schedule 3, there are only the very bare bones of directions to the parliament as to how those standing orders should be formulated.

Indeed, a moment ago, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, criticised the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, as being an attempt to restrict the scope of committees. He said that that was unacceptable. Amendment No. 123 seeks to remove a restriction on the parliament in the formulation of those standing orders. We seek to remove subparagraphs (2) and (3) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3, which we submit are restrictive in themselves. The first of those paragraphs is mandatory: The standing orders shall include provision for ensuring that, in appointing members to committees and sub-committees, regard is had to the balance of parties in the Parliament". Sub-paragraph (3) is discretionary and states: The standing orders may include provision for excluding from the proceedings of a committee or sub-committee a member of the Parliament who is not a member of the committee or sub-committee". We simply ask why the Scottish parliament, duly elected, should not decide for itself what the balance of a particular committee should be.

Should those sub-paragraphs remain, we move on, in our Amendments Nos. 124 and 125, to consider the position of regional committees and regional sub-committees which may be set up.

Regional committees and sub-committees, as I understand them, are advisory only. They are not to set policy but to advise the parliament on the particular problems that appertain to a region within Scotland, however those regions are defined and drawn up by the parliament itself. It is argued that it would be inappropriate, on a regional committee, simply to achieve the party balance that obtains throughout the whole of the parliament, that members from other areas in Scotland should be members of that regional committee.

If one takes one area which, on the results of the last election, would be adverse to my party—perhaps the area east of Glasgow, where there is no Liberal Democrat representation—why, in a regional advisory committee, should there be representation by a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish parliament who comes from an entirely different part of Scotland?

In the case of the Highlands and Islands, why should members come from another part of Scotland simply to maintain, let us assume for a moment, a Labour majority on that regional committee? In order to obtain a Labour majority on the regional committee for the Highlands and Islands, based upon the results of the last election, it would be necessary to import Labour members from another part of Scotland to sit upon that regional committee. Therefore, our argument is that, in the regions, the balance that appertains in the region itself should be maintained on the committee and not the balance in the parliament overall.

I move on to Amendment No. 126, which deals with the scrutiny of European legislation. In this Chamber we are familiar with the scrutiny of European Commission documents or European Union legislation. Members of the Committee will appreciate instantly that that does not involve taking policy decisions in relation to European Union legislation and documents. Scrutiny means scrutiny: looking at it and reporting to the parliament about the effect of that legislation and those documents upon the economic and social life of Scotland.

In that context and in that context alone, we propose that elected members of the European Parliament who are elected in Scotland should be entitled to contribute their expertise and act as a link between the parliament in Scotland and the European Parliament. There is a huge volume of legislation to be looked at, scrutinised and reported upon. We believe that elected MEPs have the experience to advise and assist the Scottish parliament on those issues.

If one looks at the way in which other countries handle scrutiny in their own domestic parliaments, one observes that in Belgium there is a scrutiny committee in its national parliament which consists of 10 Members of the European Parliament and 10 Members of the Belgian Parliament. In Germany, in the Bundestag, there are 50 elected representatives involved in scrutiny, of whom 39 are directly elected to the Bundestag, with 11 of them actually being Members of the European Parliament. In Greece, there are 31 Members who scrutinise European legislation for the benefit of the Greek Parliament but, of those, 10 are Members of the European Parliament. Spain has joint meetings, France has a mechanism whereby Members of the European Parliament are invited to give evidence, while in Ireland and Italy Members of the European Parliament attend scrutiny meetings.

Moreover, in Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal similar links are created so that the domestic parliament has the advice and experience of members of the European Parliament who are elected to the same areas by the same electors to assist in the scrutiny process. It will not surprise noble Lords to learn that the UK has no formal arrangements with its Members of the European Parliament and no direct links. The scrutiny given to European legislation is, to a great degree—and, one has to say, successfully—confined to the non-elected Members of your Lordships' House. It is our argument that the European Parliament should have this direct link with the Scottish parliament by having its elected members for the Scottish regions on the Scottish parliament's scrutiny committee. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

As regards the first three amendments to which the noble Lord has spoken, I wonder what he thinks local government is for. I cannot support the idea of imposing on this parliament the need to set up committees for regions when we have local government, recently reorganised, which is extremely keen to relate to the new parliament. I imagine that that local government will be relating to the new parliament very much as it now relates to the Scottish Office. It will be constantly negotiating, recommending and trying to persuade the parliament to give it more money, and so on. Indeed, that is the job of local government.

The noble Lord mentioned the west of Scotland around Glasgow as a possible region. One of the reasons we now have smaller councils in Scotland than we used to—for example, we used to have Strathclyde region—is that it was a very unbalanced negotiation between the west of Scotland and the Scottish Office. Indeed, it would be very unbalanced with the Scottish parliament. I have to say that it is a strange idea. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who knows a great deal about how Scotland works, is making this suggestion. Quite frankly, I cannot see it working at all.

As regards the notion that Members of the European Parliament might actually be members of such committees, I should have thought that that, too, would confuse the situation. However, I can see no reason why they should not be invited to come, give evidence and assist the committees if they wish to do so; in fact, that will probably happen. I agree that that works in other countries where there is a closer link in that respect. But this parliament will have limited responsibilities for European affairs. It is not the parliament which will be dealing directly with the European Union. That will be reserved for the Westminster Parliament. Quite honestly, I believe that the amendments would cause great confusion and I would not be able to support any of them.

The Earl of Balfour

I am very concerned about the amendment. I gain the impression that it would allow small committees to be formed within the Scottish parliament. I very much hope that the Scottish parliament will be more like this Chamber and conduct almost all of its business on the floor of the House and not be split off into little sub-committees. I believe that that is one of the great dangers. The fact that Members of this place from any quarter can participate in debates or in the various stages of legislation is, I believe, one of the outstanding features of this Chamber. Therefore, I shall be very sorry if the new Scottish parliament was to have much of its business discussed in small committees.

Moreover, there is nothing to prevent any Member of the European Parliament giving a talk or having a discussion off the Floor of the Chamber in a committee room. Again, that is something which I believe to be so remarkable about this Parliament and something which I hope will be continued in the future parliament of Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

Perhaps I should make it clear that these Benches could not support any of the amendments in this group. I hope that that will be welcomed as consensus politics and that the Minister will listen most carefully to what I have to say; indeed, he always does.

However, there is an important point of principle behind the attempt to remove the two subparagraphs of Schedule 3, as proposed in Amendment No. 123. As has been said on a number of occasions, it may well be a matter for the Scottish parliament to work out the detail of how it will conduct its business. But it is important to remember that the laws which it makes will have equal standing in Scotland with public general statutes made by this Parliament. Those Acts of the Scottish parliament will not only affect Scottish people; they will also affect citizens throughout the United Kingdom who have occasion to do business in Scotland or with Scottish companies which are in some way connected with Scotland. Therefore, it seems to me to be right that the parliament in this Bill should set out certain basic requirements as to the procedure which is to be followed. In that respect, I welcome the approach set out in Schedule 3.

As far as concerns the idea of having regional committees, that seems to me to be a potentially divisive idea. There may or may not have been some argument for it in Wales, where support for the Government's devolution proposals was not so conclusive and where there was considerable regional variation, with certain parts of Wales being very supportive of the idea and other parts being very much against it. However, in my submission, that does not apply in Scotland. Not only would regional committees ignore the valuable role played by local authorities; they might also seek to divide members of the parliament, which would be entirely counter-productive as regards what the Government are trying to do in this Bill.

We also oppose the idea of having Members of the European Parliament serving on such committees. It appears to me that Clause 23 would give the new parliament and its committees ample opportunity, if they so wished, to seek the views of Members of the European Parliament by requiring them to attend such proceedings or to produce any documents which might set forth their views. We are against all the amendments in the group for those reasons.

However, while I am on my feet and while we are focusing on the provisions set out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3, can the Minister tell us in his response what will happen if, after the standing orders are in force, proper regard is not had to the balance of parties in the parliament when members are appointed to committees and sub-committees? If a particular party grouping in the new parliament takes the view that proper regard has not been had to the statutory directions set out in subparagraph (2) of the schedule, who will have the right to object, and what form could that objection take? Is this an example of where a disgruntled member or parliamentary group could go to court and have an order of some form pronounced quashing the decision of the Scottish parliament to set up a particular committee because of its membership? That is a kind of sub-question of the question that I posed late on Tuesday night. As my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said, the relationship between the court and the parliament is an important consideration. Early in our deliberations today we have a practical example of how the question that I posed needs to be answered.

Viscount Thurso

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to local government. It may be helpful to reflect on a local authority in Scotland which is larger than a considerable number of countries in Europe; namely the Highland Council. From the date when that council was set up and to this day its structure includes regional committees. Each regional committee is made up of councillors of the area concerned. Therefore, the Caithness committee is made up of all of the councillors from Caithness, irrespective of whether they are independent or party. They act in an advisory capacity.

The relevant measure to implement that was passed by the noble friends of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, although I do not think he was a Member of your Lordships' House at that time. The Secretary of State of the day, who is now the noble friend of the noble and learned Lord, made it clear that one of the reasons he accepted this large grouping against the will of most of the people in the Highland area was because there would be sub-committees for each region.

There may well be a case for having regional committees in the Scottish parliament. As I understand our amendment, it seeks merely to permit the parliament to have those committees if it wishes. However, at present, as the Bill is written, it is absolutely impossible to have a committee made up of all the members of a particular region because that will not reflect the party balance. Will the Minister at least agree to think about this point and return to it at a later stage?

Lord Sewel

The Government do not support Amendments Nos. 123, 124, 125 or even, for that matter, Amendment No. 126. I shall respond to the first point that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made about the degree of detail in the Bill. We have consistently argued that, as far as possible, the parliament should decide such matters for itself. That is basically the guiding principle we have sought to apply. However, we believe that paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 3 should send a clear signal that the parliament should have regard to the balance of parties in the parliament. It is important to maintain that so that all committees contain a balance of views. But that, of course, does not preclude the parliament taking account of other factors. However, we think it is important—I refer to local government experience in this regard—to send a clear message that the committees of the parliament should be expected to be constituted in a way that has regard to the balance of parties in the parliament.

As regards Amendments Nos. 124 and 125, the noble Lord is trying to amend the provisions in the Bill about party balance on committees to allow for the establishment of regional committees. I am neutral on the issue of regional committees. Again, it is for the parliament to decide whether it wishes to establish regional committees. There may be strong arguments in favour that no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, would wish to advance. There may be equally strong arguments against, as we have heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. However, it is essentially a matter for the parliament to decide.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

As regards the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, how could there be regional committees under the provisions of paragraph 4(2)? I do not want regional committees; I do not think they are a good idea but, as a matter of law, how could they be established? If they were appointed, would someone who objected to them have a right to challenge in court the fact that it was outwith the competence of the parliament to approve standing orders which fly in the face of subparagraph (2)?

Viscount Thurso

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for making the point far more effectively than I did.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Sewel

My reading of the Bill is that it is for the parliament to establish those regional committees if it so wishes. I could go further and say that I see an argument that the membership of such committees should reflect the balance of parties in a particular region. Our view is that Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 are simply unnecessary. The current provision in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 does not require the parliament to ensure that the membership of every committee reflects precisely the balance of the parties in the parliament. It merely provides that the standing orders must include provisions for ensuring that in appointing members to committees regard is had to the balance of parties in the parliament. However, that is not intended to tie the parliament's hands.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Is it not the case that the committees would recommend that any legislation would be passed by the chamber according to the balance of parties in the parliament? The committees would put the regional point of view to the parliament.

Viscount Thurso

Before the Minister responds, is there a power to have advisory committees? As the Bill is currently written, can the parliament set up an advisory committee for a region, and can that committee be composed of all the members sitting for that region?

Lord Sewel

My understanding is that the parliament could certainly set up advisory committees if it wished. It could set them up in the way that the noble Viscount indicates. I believe there is a big difference between advisory committees and decision-making committees. Essentially we come back to the point that we return to time and time again; namely, that how the parliament develops its committee structure is a matter for the parliament to decide. I am happy with that. It must make provision to meet the requirement that, in appointing members to committees and sub-committees, regard is had to the balance of parties in the parliament. The balance of parties must be taken into account. However, it may be that in some cases, having had regard to the balance of parties in the parliament, the parliament decides to appoint to particular committees persons with a particular knowledge or interest, even though that means that that committee does not reflect the balance of parties in the parliament. That is an understandable position. The Government do not think that we should make additional provision in the Bill to require the parliament to set up particular committees in particular ways. As I said, this is a matter for the parliament to decide.

Amendment No. 126 would require the parliament's standing orders to allow MEPs to sit on committees or sub-committees which scrutinise European Commission documents or European legislation. We do not accept that amendment. While I agree that there may be occasions when a contribution by MEPs could help the parliament's consideration of EU proposals, how best to achieve that is a matter which should be left to the Scottish parliament to decide for itself. That does not prevent the parliament deciding whether and how to make provision in its standing orders for inviting non-members of committees to attend committees so that the benefit of their knowledge and experience is available to the parliament and its committees. However, as I have indicated previously, the Government believe it is right that, with the exception of the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General, for whom special provision is made, only members of the parliament should be members of its committees and sub-committees.

I can therefore agree with the idea that lies behind the amendments and we shall certainly want to encourage close collaboration between members of the Scottish parliament and Members of the European Parliament. But let us leave it to the parliament itself to decide how to achieve that and what the appropriate measures should be. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

The Minister has interpreted paragraph 4(2) of the schedule in a way that is directly contrary to the interpretation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, a moment before. The noble and learned Lord could not see that regional committees could possibly be set up under paragraph 4(2) which did what my noble friend Lord Thurso suggested would be sensible; namely, that those regional advisory committees should consist of all the members elected for that region.

However, having heard the interpretation that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has put on that paragraph, it is right that it will be interpreted in that way should the point arise for discussion in any legal forum in the future.

Lord Sewel

Regarding the matter of, "have regard to", the case law on the issue is in support of the Government's position. I refer the noble Lord to Simpson v. Edinburgh Corporation 1961, and Bearsden and Milngavie District Council v. Secretary of State for Scotland 1992. It is on those cases that the argument has been advanced tonight.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

Does the case law provide the answer to my question—namely, would it be possible to challenge in court a committee on the basis that the proper regard had not been had to the balance of the parties?

Lord Sewel

I apologise to the noble Lord for not replying to his question immediately. His point is a specific one but it raises a general issue: that of the relationship between the parliaments and the courts. I cannot give a single useful generalised answer to that question. I am happy to take away any specific points and consider them. I accept that this is a significant issue.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My noble friend Lord Thurso asked a straight question and received a straight answer from the Minister. His question was: is it possible to have a regional committee under paragraph 4(2) on which all the members of that region sit, without incomers from other areas taking part. The Minister said yes.

The cases to which he referred are always carried in my head. I turn them over in my mind in the early hours of the morning and am fully aware of their implications, who decided them and who appeared in them. The Minister has given the answer that will be used in any court proceedings that may ever arise on the construction of this paragraph.

The question of the desirability of regional committees was raised. Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me for saying that in Wales we regard regional committees as essential. In various parts of Wales there are communities of interest. We believe that each of those communities should be represented and should be in a position to advise the national assembly of Wales.

In case noble Lords think that I am fixated on Wales, I should say that I have a deep interest in Scotland. Perhaps I can best illustrate it by saying that my new grandson's name is Angus Huw (the second name is spelt in the Welsh way), so I am almost 50:50 split on the Wales/Scotland issue. I can see that in the part of Scotland that I know best, Aberdeen, people have the same concerns about a tug from the central belt, the polarisation of power and influence in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as we in North Wales have about the polarisation of power in Cardiff. Consequently, in the part of the world that I know people are concerned that there should be proper representation and consultation, and a proper community of interests in the Scottish assembly. I should have thought that regional committees are desirable. We hope that this schedule will permit such regional committees to be formed.

The maintenance of subparagraphs (2) and (3) of paragraph 4 means that any question arising under this legislation would be for the courts to determine. If the Scottish parliament decided, for example, that a committee should be formed which did not have a balance of parties in the parliament, then the matter would go to court. All we are saying from these Benches is that the Scottish parliament should be able to decide such issues without the courts being involved in construing Westminster legislation.

I am sure that we shall return to these issues. The amendments are not originally in my name. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 124 to 126 not moved.]

Lord Hoyle

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 p.m.

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

House resumed.