§ (" . The legislative competence of the Parliament shall include power to set up a Second Chamber for the Parliament, whose composition and powers shall be determined by, and may be modified by, an Act of the Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee we discussed an amendment of mine which would have introduced a second chamber to the Scottish parliament. A number of your Lordships supported that idea in principle but I think it would be true to say that there was a general feeling that it should not be decided by us here but that it should be decided, if necessary, by the Scottish parliament in the future.
§ Therefore, I have come forward with this amendment which makes clear on the face of the Bill—and we have just listened to a discussion about that—that the Scottish parliament will have the legislative competence to set up a second chamber whose composition and powers shall be determined and perhaps modified by an Act of that parliament. In other words, we are ensuring that the Scottish parliament has the power, if it wishes, to set up a second chamber at some time in the future.
§ I do not want to go on for too long about the arguments for a second chamber. The Marshalled List today provides all the argument that your Lordships will need in favour of a second chamber. In your Lordships' House, thanks to the Committee stage, the Government have tabled a considerable number of important amendments for this Report stage. Indeed, we are grateful to the Government for some of them. They have listened at least a little—I shall not say that they have listened all the time—and have taken on board some of the points made by your Lordships in Committee.
§ Of course, in Committee, the Government tabled some amendments arising both from the other place and from the opportunity that they have had to give second thoughts to some parts of the Bill. Therefore, the importance of a second chamber is clear. Even without the improvements that I trust your Lordships will make both on Report and at Third Reading, we have already made some progress in improving the Bill and making it better.1577
§ The Government do not always listen. The last debate showed clearly that Ministers do not even recognise when their own arguments have been entirely blown out of the water. But I suppose that your Lordships cannot win just by argument all the time. Occasionally the battalions of the government supporters and their camp followers come to their aid on a bad argument.
The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, did the previous government listen more or less than the current Government?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, not only did I listen but I was occasionally forced by your Lordships to listen to debates on a number of major issues which changed government policy. One piece of government policy which was changed remained to be enacted at the election and we still have not even seen the Bill which should have come before us by this time from the now Government who were very keen on the idea when they were in Opposition.
When we discussed the question of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament, a number of your Lordships from the governing party indicated some sympathy for the idea—the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who I see in his place, and the noble Lords, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Hughes and Lord Ewing of Kirkford. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, went quite a long way in his support of the idea. Talking about my amendment, he said: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".—[Official Report, 8/7/98; col. 1250.]I do not believe that we should necessarily return to the issue in two or three years. By "we" I mean both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We should make it clear on the face of the Bill that if a Scottish parliament decides that a second chamber is a good idea, it should be able to introduce one without coming to Westminster to ask for an amendment to the Scotland Bill, or indeed another Bill dealing specifically with that situation.
As your Lordships are aware, legislation in this Parliament goes through four stages in both Houses. In fact, in this House it is slightly more. In the House of Commons Third Reading is formal; speeches are made which are usually of a highly political nature but not much else happens. In this House amendments can be considered at Third Reading. Indeed, this week on the Third Reading of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill your Lordships improved the Bill considerably over that proposed by the Government. One hopes that the Government will take that on board.
There are four stages of a Bill in the House of Commons. There is Second Reading; Committee stage, which is usually upstairs consisting of a Committee of 1578 about 20 people; then a Report stage on the Floor of the House, and an automatic Third Reading with a short debate. In addition to the Second Reading, your Lordships have a Committee stage, a Report stage and then a Third Reading.
Therefore, in this bicameral system, legislation is considered by two different bodies and two different collections of pairs of eyes, if I can put it that way. That improves legislation and every government of all parties have found it useful to have two bites at every cherry. Even the Bills that start in your Lordships' Chamber have the advantage of going to the Commons, where they can be amended. I recall a major piece of legislation which I started in your Lordships' House—the Pensions Act, as it now is. We amended it and listened to arguments, and it was further amended in the House of Commons in response to argument both in the House of Commons and here, and also perhaps discussions the Government had with outside bodies who were interested in pension matters.
I believe that hardly a Bill passes through the second Chamber—if it starts here, the House of Commons; if it starts in the Commons, here—without any change at all and hardly a Bill passes through Parliament without the Government taking advantage of the two stages to propose amendments to their own Bill; to accept arguments either in whole or in part.
I accept—it was made perfectly clear to me in the debate on 8th July—that most people considered it to be too late in the day to start thinking about a second chamber for a Scottish parliament or, as my proposal then was, to set up a commission to consider a second chamber for a Scottish parliament. In the light of that interesting debate I tabled an amendment which does no more than give the Scottish parliament, if it so wishes, the power to set up a second chamber and to decide on its composition and powers.
Once the Scottish parliament is up and running, it may well feel that it needs some form of second chamber; that is, a chamber that perhaps takes account of different parts of Scotland, or perhaps is drawn from local authorities or even, as the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, thought, from the elected Members of the House of Commons from Scotland or the elected Members of the European Parliament from Scotland. That would mean a second chamber interlinked with the House of Commons, the Parliament of the United Kingdom and with the European Parliament, which is of increasing importance.
I am not tied to that idea, but I see its merits. One of the problems we have in this country is that we tend to run our different layers of government totally separately. We do not often countenance people being members of both. That tends to happen after elections, but people quickly resign from whichever body they believe to be the least significant. Nobody ever resigns from the House of Commons to take up their seat in the European Parliament or a seat in local government; but they do resign from local government and from the European Parliament, either immediately or at the next election, in order to take up their seat in the House of Commons.
1579 That is often unfortunate. There are plenty of Members of this place and of the other place to be able to afford a little overlap with those other bodies. However, I can see that the same arguments will prevail in the Scottish parliament against people having dual membership for a long time, though I hope that will happen. It may well be that the Scottish parliament will want to consider the kind of dual membership outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford.
Whatever the parliament wishes to do, it should be able to do it. It should be clearly within its powers to decide to set up a second chamber, and that is what my amendment seeks. It will not in any way, as my last amendment did—I can assure your Lordships quite accidentally—delay the setting up of the parliament. It will not impose anything on the parliament from here. It will simply give it power in the future if it wishes. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, conceded that the proposals he made in the Committee stage of this Bill for a second chamber for the Scottish parliament came a bit late in the day—indeed, too late to be practical in their implementation without holding up the establishment of the Scottish parliament. I can only say that it was significantly and curiously late in the day. It is remarkable that the Official Opposition only discovered the merits of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament after this legislation left the other place and arrived here.
I know it will not surprise the noble Lord or disappoint him, but on these Benches we remain persuaded of the view of his colleague in another place—Michael Ancram—who was and may still be the constitutional shadow Minister for the Official Opposition. He said in plain terms that in his view there is no case for a second chamber in the Scottish context.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I am not sure that that argument is entirely helpful, especially as in the last debate his party took a contrary view to the view it took in this Chamber at the Committee stage in relation to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. People in glasshouses should not throw stones.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I do not wish to return to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. That was a different size of issue than the one now being raised by the noble Lord.
The noble Lord changes his ground, conceding that it was curiously late in the day to make this proposal in the Committee stage, and he now wants the proposal to be within the competence of the Scottish parliament. Those who have been most deeply concerned over such a long time with the establishment of a Scottish parliament have already considered this issue seriously. The Scottish Constitutional Convention went into this in extreme detail and came to a measured judgment. It decided that a second chamber was not appropriate for 1580 a Scottish parliament and that there were other methods of dealing with the need for adequate scrutiny of legislation. It proposed from the beginning that there should be better pre-and post-legislative scrutiny and more consultation than exists in the Westminster system.
I understand that the steering group which has been looking at the working practices of the Scottish parliament agreed to recommend the establishment of a civic assembly. That would bring public bodies from across Scotland together to discuss issues of relevance with the Scottish parliament. It would also have a role in the pre-legislative stages of Bills.
The considered view, arising out of the long period when the Scottish Constitutional Convention struggled for what the present Government are now bringing into being, rests on a careful judgment of the matter. The Scottish parliament will be different from the Westminster Parliament in a number of ways. It will be different in that Bills can be carried over from one Session to another in its four-year term. There will therefore be more time for the scrutiny of legislation without the need to rush in order to avoid Bills falling.
For all those reasons, we on these Benches stick to the position that we have had throughout on this matter. We are not convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, now seeks to include in the procedures of the Scottish parliament.
Perhaps I may cite an additional consideration which might be worthy of consideration by those on the Conservative Benches. I am an enthusiastic devolutionist. I am an equally passionate anti-separatist. I repeat that I am a devolutionist and that I am not a separatist. I am proud of my Scottish nationalism, but I do not believe in separatist nationalism. If one goes too far along the road of urging that the Scottish parliament should be similar to that which we have here in Westminster, I believe that that will feed separatism rather than the proper, constructive devolutionist position, which is the very basis upon which the Scottish parliament will represent a tremendous improvement in the way in which we run our constitutional affairs and look after the best interests of the people of Scotland.
§ Lord Selkirk of Douglas
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to point out that the Constitution Unit of University College, London considered unicameral legislatures and came to the interesting conclusion that where countries had moved to having a parliament with only one House,The parliaments which abolished their upper Houses and did not at the same time carry through other reforms to introduce checks and balances on the majority in the legislature … notably, New Zealand, and Queensland, have all in recent years had to address this omission".On the other hand,Parliaments such as Denmark and Sweden, which switched to unicameralism and introduced reforms contemporaneously have not faced such problems".The Minister will inevitably oppose the amendment, but an important principle has been raised. I refer to the fact that there should be the necessary checks and balances. One check and balance which has worked well 1581 in the past is having Special Standing Committees after the Second Reading of a Bill but before the Bill goes into Standing Committee. As it happens, I was the Minister who had to introduce legislation to deal with raves. We thought that we had got it absolutely right, as did the civil servants. However, Opposition MPs said that there was a better way to tackle the problem. That way emerged during a Special Standing Committee. It involved a lot more work for the civil servants, but the end result was much more acceptable and was, I believe, an improvement.
Something similar happened with the Children Act which applied to Scotland, which followed a similar Act for England. A Special Standing Committee considered that Bill. Ultimately, all the detailed complaints and requests of countless different organisations involved in the area were met acceptably. I believe that the Scottish parliament will necessarily have to put in place such a check or balance if it wants to act in a wholly satisfactory manner.
There are other checks and balances, such as ombudsmen acting effectively in a whole range of ways. Auditors can also keep a close eye on, and establish a wide-ranging review of, the economy and of the effectiveness of government programmes. It may also be possible to publish Bills in draft. I hope that the Minister will consider that possibility.
Perhaps I may end with a particular request. The steering committee which is considering the various procedures and regulations by which the parliament should operate has, I understand, been putting information on the internet. I became aware of that when information relating to Pepper v. Hart, which we shall debate later, was put before me. When the steering committee puts information on the internet, I suggest that similar information is placed in the Library of this House and in that of the House of Commons. I believe that both Peers and MPs would very much like to know the information, which is of relevance to the setting up of the Scottish parliament, which is being imparted via the internet.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, looking at the government amendments, I agree with my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish that the Government have been listening. They have done some excellent things. I hope, however, that they will be able to go further. It may well be that they should seriously consider this amendment. Surely of all the issues that have been raised in this House this is probably the one on which the Government would be wise to listen to the voice of noble Lords and, if I may say so, particularly of those noble Lords from their own Benches who in Committee spoke on this matter from their long experience.
Until the Bill reached this House, very few people with experience of second Chamber work had been involved. The noble Lords, Lord Ewing of Kirkford and Lord Steel of Aikwood—alas, neither is in his place today—were not Members of this House during the time 1582 of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, of which they were such distinguished chairmen. They were Members of the House of Commons. Members of the House of Commons probably contributed greatly to the work of the convention. I do not know whether the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie or Lord Thomson of Monifieth, were members. However, I doubt whether many members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention were Members of this House.
As I have said, Members of the House of Commons contributed, and they, like civil servants, often—naturally—regard the second Chamber as a nuisance rather than an advantage. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Scottish Constitutional Convention decried the notion of a second Chamber for the Scots parliament largely on the grounds of cost and democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, told us that in Committee. The noble Lord's experience in this House since then has not caused him to change his mind, but the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, explained to us in Committee that he has changed his mind, and why, and he suggested a way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, did the same. He described, from long experience, how governments frequently have second thoughts as a result of discussions in this Chamber.
However, it seems that that point is still not understood by the influential Constitution Unit which my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas mentioned. In a letter to the press last week, the chairman of that unit revealed that he thought that because most amendments made in this House were government amendments, that meant that they had nothing to do with amendments that had previously been introduced by Peers. That is a considerable misunderstanding.
The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, led him to think that the Scots parliament will probably need a second Chamber in due time. The experience of other noble Lords has led them to take the same view. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, and to others. My noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton spoke of the difference between pre-legislative consultation on a Bill and post-legislative scrutiny of it. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that the experience of those of us who participated in the pre-legislative scrutiny of several Bills in the last Session and, I think, the Session before was that that was a very different process. It was a useful process, but it was nothing like the same as looking at a Bill for a second time once it has passed through another place. I agree with those noble Lords whom I have just mentioned.
In Committee, I said that in our system, where the legislative process is so detailed and involves fixing detailed wording into statute, that which is brought forward from the Commons is often lacking in those respects. It needs testing—and it needs testing by more than one group of legislators. Pre-legislative consultation certainly helps but it is not the same thing at all as a second, detailed, focused examination later.
I look back at many Bills in which I have taken part in this House which are now part of the law of Scotland. There have been big government Bills and lesser 1583 government Bills brought forward by governments of both parties. I look back at a number of Private Members' Bills which I have had the privilege of taking through this House. The vast majority of those Bills would have been less workable and less user friendly for the people of Scotland had it not been for amendments brought forward here and subsequently accepted by the government of the day.
The Minister has yawned quite a bit during this debate. I do not think he should because I believe that if the Government do not put some kind of enabling clause in this Bill to make it absolutely plain that the Scots parliament will be within its rights—
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. For the sake of accuracy I was not yawning but I have recently cracked a tooth and I am trying to find out what has happened to it.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I express my deepest sympathy for the noble Lord. That is a horrible thing to happen.
I believe that if the Government do not put something like this amendment in the Bill, the time will come when the Scots parliament and the people of Scotland will rue the day because there will be a good deal of argument about whether they do or do not have a right to set up a second chamber. That would be the greatest possible pity. What is wrong with accepting an amendment such as this?
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Carnegy has made a powerful argument in favour of this amendment. I would like just to add a few points. This amendment could do no harm and it may be found at a later stage to be necessary. It is merely giving an enabling power. It is a power to the Scottish parliament alone. It will have control of the matter to decide whether there should be a second chamber. If it finds that in one way and another, and in spite of the complication of the legislative powers which it is given under the Bill, and the great detail, nevertheless its legislation turns out to be perfect, there will be no need for a second chamber. But if, on the other hand, as in the United Kingdom parliament, it is found that the second chamber is necessary for revising legislation, then the Scottish parliament could set up a second chamber and that would help enormously. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth—if I may have his attention for one moment—said that this has come rather late. But surely if it is worth doing, it is better late than never.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, I think there are some points that are worth considering in relation to a second chamber. Like other noble Lords in the Chamber I have fair experience of legislation in another place both when in opposition and when in government. The Scottish parliament will have 129 members and of course a number will have official positions and will not be available to sit on committees. I am not aware of how the scrutiny committee will scrutinise Bills. I do 1584 not know whether the system will be roughly the same as at Westminster. However, if there are, say, 120 available members they will be extremely stretched to scrutinise all the Bills that are being bandied about Scotland at the present time. I should have thought they would welcome a second chamber which might enable them to pass on some of the weight of the legislative work during the course of any one year.
Another point that I think is worth bearing in mind is the following. The House of Commons has more than 600 members and this House has perhaps 300 or 400 regular attenders. There is an enormous breadth of experience in this Parliament which cannot possibly be equalled by the experience of the 129 members of the Scottish parliament. They may welcome advice from experts in a second chamber on a whole host of issues of which they perhaps do not have much practical knowledge themselves.
Noble Lords on this side of the Chamber have made an important point; namely, that we are not asking for a second chamber to be set up, but rather to be given the opportunity for it to be established if that is found to be necessary. There is no reason why that point should not be discussed now. I do not know why the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, thinks that discussing that now is any more likely to make Scotland seek independence than is the case under the present proposals and under the present Labour Government. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to this measure as a constructive and helpful way of promoting good legislation in Scotland rather than thinking of it as being critical, as Members on the Government Front Bench seem to think.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, this amendment is attractive to a degree but it defeats the purpose of working for a more consensual approach in the Scottish parliament. This United Kingdom Parliament is far too busy and definitely needs a second chamber. Procedural devices in the other place such as guillotine Motions and the absence of the right to be heard are well known to allow legislation to be passed with many clauses not being considered. That was certainly the case with the Bill we are discussing.
I do not believe that the Scottish parliament will be that busy. Provided the promised pre-legislative process is seriously adopted and the various stages of scrutiny are not limited by time and all members of the parliament are able to be heard, I believe that the need for a second chamber will not be established. I may prove to be wrong and no doubt many people will point this out to me if that occurs, and the Scotland Act may have to be amended subsequently, but I do not believe that we should plan for such a failure at this time.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, people always wanted to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, when he was in another place and the same is true of this Chamber. He commands great experience and wisdom and he is much respected in your Lordships' House on this subject. I was, however, surprised to hear him make a speech purporting to limit the functions of the Scottish parliament. All this 1585 amendment would do is to enable the Scottish parliament to have a second chamber, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. It enables the Scottish parliament to have a second chamber if it so wishes.
When all is said and done, this is an amendment which the Government would be well advised to accept in the interests of strengthening rather than weakening the Scottish parliament to give it all the powers they possibly can.
§ Lord Stewartby
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene but the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, prompted me to say a few words. Having had responsibility for taking a number of long and complex Bills through another place I do not think this is a matter of being consensual. The legislative process—Bills these days are so complex—requires a second stage of consideration, whatever kind of scrutiny committee one might set up in advance. I do not wish to repeat comments which have been made by other noble Lords except to say that I believe almost all the legislation which I have had anything to do with over the years has benefited from consideration by a revising chamber partly because issues arise, often for the first time, when legislation is brought before another place, but also because the very process of discussion in another place generates a degree of external interest and comment which cannot normally be taken into account in advance until those issues are properly debated in the legislative chamber.
I cannot foresee how detailed legislation will be in Scotland or whether it will differ from the nature of Westminster legislation. However, on the evidence that we have on the Bills that we consider I should have thought it almost essential to have a second stage, unless we can work out an entirely different approach to getting the text of Bills right before they are enacted. After they are enacted it is much more difficult to reverse them, because in order to do so new primary legislation is needed.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord has said, I now understand why the British economy is in such a mess—the Budget is never revised in the Second Chamber!
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I should make it absolutely clear from the start that the adoption of these proposals would be incompatible with government proposals as described in the White Paper and overwhelmingly endorsed by the Scottish people in the referendum last September.
We have to ask ourselves simply: what is the purpose of the Bill? Its purpose is to lay down the structure, function and powers of a Scottish parliament. We have reached that stage after a long process, indicated and alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth; namely, the work of the constitutional convention and the commission that worked with it. The proposals that came out of that consultation were clearly 1586 set out in the White Paper and endorsed by the electorate. So there is agreement in Scotland about the structure, function and powers of a Scottish parliament.
It is not as though the constitutional convention and the whole consultative process somehow put to one side the issue of a second chamber. They did not. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, reminded us, they deliberately examined the case for a second chamber. They studied it, scrutinised it, and rejected it. I believe that they were right to do so.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. He mentioned that the referendum endorsed proposals for the Scottish parliament. The referendum was not on the question of whether the parliament should be a single chamber or bicameral. The Scottish public have never been consulted on the matter. They have no idea.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I am afraid the noble Earl is in error on that point. In the referendum the Scottish people were asked to endorse the proposals contained in the White Paper. It was not a minor publication which came out at dead of night and was forgotten. At the time it was a best-seller in Scottish bookshops and the biggest seller that Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Scotland has ever had. The scheme was explicit. It was subject to debate in the Scottish media. People knew what they were buying. There was no doubt at all that the people of Scotland knew in detail the type of parliament that they were being invited to endorse.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, says it is not his intention to impose a second chamber; that this is a permissive or enabling power to give the parliament the ability if it wishes to create a second chamber in the future. That is dodging the issue. Either we are in favour of a second chamber for a Scottish parliament or we are against it. That should be made clear in the Bill. It is not right on a major issue regarding the structure of the parliament to try to weasel our way out by providing for its possible creation through an enabling provision. Although flexibility is important, it has its limits—as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is often only too happy to remind us. A proposal which deals with a fundamental aspect of the settlement should either be explicit in the Bill or be excluded from the Bill. We have reached the stage of placing before the House the clear, detailed proposals on the structure of the parliament. As I have said, they were the result of a major process of consultation over a period of years in Scotland—indeed for some of us it was a period of decades.
However, there was always recognition that there would be a need to involve what have been referred to as the checks and balances in the process, and to do so in a way that was not necessarily derived from the Westminster model. We were able to look elsewhere. We were able to examine the satisfactorily functioning unicameral parliaments, particularly in the Nordic countries—Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland—all of which are mature, successful democracies functioning without a second chamber. The majority of the German Länder are also single-chamber parliaments.
1587 When we examine how those parliaments address the business of legislation, we find some very interesting developments. The Finnish Parliament has operated with a unicameral system since early this century. The Swedish Parliament adopted such an approach more recently. In both cases the parliaments ensure by means other than a separate second chamber adequate opportunities to scrutinise legislative proposals. In the Finnish Parliament, for example, the subject committees play an important role in examining legislative proposals and consult with non-government bodies on them. That is the approach that we have tried to capture for the Scottish parliament. It is a new and different approach from the one we have traditionally taken to our business at Westminster.
That is why we have set up the consultative steering group established by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The steering group has already recognised the importance of putting in place procedures to facilitate and encourage prior consultation on legislative proposals. It has endorsed the concept of ensuring that there are strong committees in the parliament able to scrutinise effectively any legislation that is brought before it. I have no doubt that the steering committee's report and recommendations will provide for the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that the parliament works effectively as a second chamber.
We have no difficulty with the very important idea of ensuring that there is an appropriate, effective and workable means of ensuring scrutiny of the executive's legislative proposals and to offer the opportunity for revision. But to have that it is not necessary to have a second chamber, as we have seen through the mature and established working examples of the Nordic parliaments.
I admire the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for his political gymnastics from time to time. I should perhaps therefore resist the temptation to make a point when he occasionally falls flat on his face. However, perhaps I should not resist that temptation today. I remember that one of the main arguments advanced as to why we should not have devolution was that Scotland was in danger of being over-governed; that there was a danger of building a massively expensive structure that the people of Scotland did not want. That argument sits oddly with the proposal for enabling a second chamber—another level of government; and, no doubt, a more expensive one—to be established.
Over a long period of time a large number of people involved in the public life of Scotland considered the whole issue of how a Scottish parliament should be structured and the powers and functions that it should have. Those proposals were subject to discussion and debate within Scotland. They were encapsulated in the White Paper that was placed before the people of Scotland and endorsed by them. Those proposals clearly indicated the character of the parliament. That parliament was deliberately conceived as a unicameral one which would establish a strong committee structure, thus enabling the scrutiny of legislation to take place, which would hold the executive to account and which, 1588 in relation to the detailed points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, would encourage the publication of draft Bills.
I believe that the Government have got it right and that there is no need for a second chamber. Attempting to achieve that through the provision of an enabling power is ducking the issue. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder if he would clarify a point for me. I was impressed by his description of the system in the Nordic countries. He touched on the German Länder, about which I have had some instruction during the course of German lessons that take place in your Lordships' House. The size of the Federal Republic of Germany may be out of kilter with that of Scotland, but, as I understand it, in Germany and perhaps in Switzerland—though I hesitate to mention it because it may rouse the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon—there is a clear structure of lower tiers of government which work their way up to the unicameral system. Representatives of the German Länder go to the Bundesrat and there is therefore a fairly clear structure. Does the Minister have it in mind that in, say, five years' time or longer there could be a power for the Scottish parliament to evolve a system? I understand that the proposal is that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny and committees. Will the Government stop at that or will they give power to the parliament to have a wider review of the political system within Scotland? If the Minister believes that the system proposed is adequate, he might care to glance, as I did today, at the front pages of the Herald and the Scotsman and read the result of what I understand were some successful meetings yesterday. These proposals have only arisen at this late stage of the Bill in your Lordships' House, after 15 months of study. I wonder whether a pre-legislative scrutiny mechanism would be satisfactory.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, because it will be a unicameral parliament, there will be a great onus on those involved to establish the most effective pre-legislative arrangements. Those who have been involved in the argument from the early days have always had this at the front of their minds. There is no difference between any of us on the importance and priority that we attach to this matter.
With regard to the extent to which the Scottish parliament could change the political structure of Scotland, clearly the most obvious area for that is local government. It would be perfectly possible for a Scottish parliament to change the structure of local government in Scotland.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the Minister did not reply to a single point I made. I do not take him to task for that; there were many speakers and he may have thought my points were not worth replying to.
It is noticeable that none of the noble Lords on his Benches who, out of the depths of legislative experience, previously disagreed with him—none of 1589 whom are inflexible or out-of-date people—are present here today. I believe that it behoves the Minister to tell us why he did not explain to them that they were wrong and whether he thinks that the dozens of amendments he is making in this second Chamber today, as a result of scrutiny in this House and of the time he has been granted because of the second round of scrutiny, are necessary. Would the Bill be just as good without them? How could the process be carried out without a second chamber? This is a practical point, not a political one. The people of Scotland have not had a chance to know about the need for a second chamber. The Minister is right: they think that there will not be one. However, I am sure that they would not mind if there were a clause enabling the parliament to have a second chamber if it so desired. I believe the Minister owes it to us all to reply briefly to those points.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I shall reply briefly. As to my noble friends who may or may not be present today, I suggest that it is possible that they are not speaking in the debate because they have read Hansard and have been convinced by the arguments I deployed at an earlier stage.
On the more substantial point that the noble Baroness made, I have tried to emphasise that there is no difference between us as regards the need for scrutiny and revision. Where we differ is that the noble Baroness believes that that is only possible by having a second chamber, whereas the Government believe that it is not necessary to have a second chamber in order to establish the institutions of scrutiny and revision. I have prayed in aid the example of the Nordic parliaments, where there is proper, effective and adequate process of scrutiny and revision within the structure of a unicameral parliament.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. Some of us were wondering which of the noble Lord's teeth had cracked. From his reply, I suspect that it was his wisdom tooth.
I hope that we shall not be told constantly that, because the people of Scotland did not make a decision on X, Y or Z matter, we therefore cannot proceed with it. There were only two questions. One was quite general, the other a little more specific, and that was an end to it. The very fact that the Government are proposing amendments suggests that they are prepared to make changes as the Bill proceeds.
The Minister has made it clear that he believes that a second chamber will not be necessary, and therefore he does not believe that members of the Scottish parliament should have the power to consider whether it might be necessary. If my amendment is not included in the legislation, if the Minister does not accept the next series of amendments and if the number of MSPs declines from about 130, which the Government believe the parliament needs, to just over a 100 in, say, eight years' time, it may be that the need for a second chamber and some additional brains to consider legislation will become more important. I presume that if at that stage the Scottish parliamentarians decide that they would like 1590 to have a second chamber, they would have to ask this Parliament to put a Bill through. The Minister is nodding in agreement, so I have correctly interpreted that matter. That is unfortunate. I was trying to be as modest as I could be in the amendment that I proposed. I am grateful to all my noble friends for their support for the proposition that there should be a second chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was unusually uncharitable in his comments. One normally hears from the Liberal Democrats that the Scottish parliament will be consensual and non-confrontational in its approach. The noble Lord has been fairly confrontational. Perhaps he will have to learn to adopt a non-confrontational approach before the Scottish parliament comes into being, although given the way in which Scottish politics is developing at the moment according to the newspapers, radio and television, there is not much that is non-confrontational, whether it be the SNP or the governing party. They are at each other's throats in a way that would do credit to the other place.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that it is not a good argument simply to say that all of this has been considered in the constitutional convention and that is the last word on it. I know that he does not believe my credentials to be any good. I just live in Scotland and I suppose that I must live with whatever comes along. I do not appear to have any particular right to voice my opinion on these matters. But the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, whose status is second to none as far as concerns the constitutional convention, expressed considerable reservations about the lack of a second chamber. He thought that that was worth considering. I quoted him to that effect earlier today. I suspect that the noble Lord knows that the Government will not shift and he feels that it is easier not to be here. No doubt the noble Lord will speak for himself.
The most amazing assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was that if there were a second chamber it would feed separatism. My goodness, it is a bit late in the day for the Liberal Democrats to be worried about feeding separatism. They have made a pretty good job of it. Alex Salmond is enjoying his diet very much at the moment. I believe that that was a bogus argument. A second chamber could help to dispel separatism by acting as a check or balance to a lower chamber that might easily be dominated by the SNP at one election or another.
However, I can tell when I shall not make any progress with the Minister. As we are to deal with a very important issue in respect of which noble Lords may be able to tease the Minister by asking whether or not the Government are in breach of the White Paper and the constitutional convention, I seek leave to withdrawn my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 [Constituencies, regions and regional members]:
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Page 60, line 5, after ("Constituencies") insert ("of the Scottish Parliament").1591
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3 in my name and that of a number of my noble friends. In moving this amendment, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 6 to 9. I shall also refer to Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 24 in this group, which relate to a slightly separate issue.
§ These amendments are designed to address the curious anomaly in the position of the Government that has arisen since the publication of the report of the constitutional convention. That has linked the number of seats at Westminster to the number of constituencies in the Scottish parliament. In turn they are linked to the number of regional members in the Scottish parliament, which means that, in order to solve the West Lothian question, whereby the number of representatives in the Westminster Parliament is reduced, the Scottish parliament that has given rise to the need for that reduction itself reduces. One comes down to the absurd realisation that if ultimately it is decided that the proper answer to the West Lothian question is 10 MPs for Scotland, there will be about 15 people in Edinburgh to administer the whole of Scotland.
§ Amendment No. 3 is a paving amendment to allow the other amendments to go through. The main meat of our argument lies in Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 which seek to enable the Scottish parliament to decide its own representation and therefore restore broadly the position set out in the report of the constitutional convention. Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 24 essentially reinforce that and take a belt and braces approach. They also offer a compromise in that if the first-past-the-post members are altered it allows for the regional members to be topped up to maintain the number at 129.
§ When this Bill was debated at Second Reading, which in real time was many months ago and was a good 12 days ago in parliamentary time, I spoke warmly in favour of the measure as a whole. That support for devolution and for the parliament in Edinburgh has not diminished one wit either in me or in my noble friends. During Second Reading I pointed out two very grave concerns. I believed that the more important one was the curious Catch 22 that had been created after the major debates had taken place in the constitutional convention. I believe that it was first introduced when the Bill was in another place.
§ At Committee stage my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood set out our position on this issue in detail. I believe that he did it with great cogency. I am extremely sorry that he has been detained in Luxembourg today and is not here to put the case himself. I am sure that he would have done it with considerably greater lucidity than I can and, more importantly, with the far greater authority that his voice would carry as a co-chairman of the constitutional convention. I am sorry that he is not here and I crave your Lordships' indulgence that a humble man from Caithness has to do the job. I believe that the position of the government is wholly ridiculous. It completely defies logic in order to tie a neat little administrative bow between the Westminster constituencies and the proposed Scottish constituencies. No other defence has been advanced for it.1592
§ I remind noble Lords of the three very powerful arguments in favour of the amendment, contrary to the position of the Government. The first argument, which I believe to be very powerful, is that it restores the position as it was understood and agreed in the constitutional convention. I submit that the Government's position in this matter is contrary to the spirit of devolution. Secondly, the inevitable reduction which is the consequence of the Government's position will seriously impair the working of the new parliament. Thirdly, I have no doubt that, were the Government's proposals to be carried through and this amendment not passed, the breadth and depth of representation in the Scottish parliament would be reduced. There are many other important and detailed arguments, but I leave them to my noble friends to put before the House.
I return to the first argument. I speak with the slight risk of being teased by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I always enjoy it because usually it means that I am in the right. The other day the noble Lord chided me for reading from my own speeches so I shall read from somebody else's. I remind noble Lords of the words used by my noble friend in moving this amendment:
I can tell the Committee that there is no issue more thoroughly debated, argued and discussed, both formally within the convention and in the corridors outside, than the vexed question of the appropriate number of members of the new Scottish parliament.
There is every indication that the Government propose a major breach of the agreement reached in the constitutional convention".— [Official Report, 8/7/98; col. 1332.]
I turn to page 21 of the report of the constitutional convention:
The total size of the Parliament will be 129 Members".
It goes on to say at page 22:
The system which the convention has devised is the outcome of long and detailed discussions. It should not be easily challenged or changed without careful and democratic scrutiny".
In the debate that we have just had the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, eloquently and persuasively put forward a strong case for the checks and balances that will exist within the new chamber. I believe that the Government's position in relation to this amendment is diametrically opposite to the view expressed by the noble Lord in the previous debate.
§ If I may come to my second argument, I really do believe that if we have this curious anomaly whereby the number of MPs is reduced at the wave of some magic wand down to a bare 100, which is barely twice the number of people that sit in the local government in Inverness, there simply will not be enough people to go around to sit on the committees, to pre-scrutinise legislation, to form the administration and to form the opposition. His very own argument against the second chamber stands proof of the folly of the Government's position in regard to this matter.
§ My third argument is on the question of representation. The constitutional convention was at great pains to bring forward a system which sought as far as possible solutions to all the divergent problems and views which exist within Scotland. There is the question that those of us who live in the far north are 1593 frightened that the domination of Westminster simply becomes the domination of Edinburgh. I am much reassured by the regional structure that has been put in that the views of those in more rural areas will be heard and we will have our voice heard in Edinburgh. Reduction is bound to impact on that. Where will the reduction come? Will it come from us in the north reinforcing the central belt concerns, or will it come from the central belt reinforcing their concerns of a tartan-clad army coming down from the Highlands to dominate the parliament? Either way we are on a hiding to nothing.
§ I shall stick with those three powerful arguments and leave my noble friends to pick up other points. However, I have just one observation to make. When we finished this debate in Committee the Caithness Courier carried a report. I do not quite know why the latter should have picked it up but it did. I was at the Halkirk Highland Games a day or two after that. I have never experienced so many people coming to me and saying, "I had no idea this was in the Bill" and telling me how right we were to press forward. I do not believe there is anybody in Scotland who actually understands what this means who does not wish the Government to reverse their position and accept our extremely logical proposal.
§ I am sure that we shall have a very interesting debate. We may even have quite a long debate but when the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, comes to the Dispatch Box, which I am sure he will do with his customary courtesy honeyed with humour, I hope, as he seeks to defend his position with all his intellectual might and an undoubtedly sound brief, that what he will do is look into his heart where I am certain—and I guess this—he is with me. Let his heart on this occasion rule his head. Please, I ask him, let him concede because I must warn him: if he does not, we on these Benches regard these amendments as fundamental and crucial and we shall certainly wish to seek the opinion of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rowallan
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 16, 20 and 25.
It gives me enormous pleasure for very nearly the first time since I have been in your Lordships' House to be fully behind the Liberal Party on this issue. A very cogent point has been put by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. I cannot see any logic at all in building a parliament for 129 people and all their offices and then reducing the number at a later date to 108, 100, or whatever the number might be. Apart from the complete waste of capital money involved in doing that, the whole thing seems to me to be completely illogical. I had hoped that by now the noble Lords in the Liberal Party and in my own party would have managed to get together and bring forward a common amendment for this. We are all after the same thing, but there are at least four different proposals saying virtually the same thing in different words. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso said, this is an important issue; it is absolutely fundamental to the whole thing. The White Paper quite clearly stated that there would be 129 Members in this 1594 parliament and we now learn during the course of this Bill's progress that this could be reduced. That must be resisted at all costs. I hope that the noble Lord who will be doing the answering has got a heart and that he manages to use it.
§ Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
My Lords, I rise to support my noble kinsman and my noble friend wholeheartedly in what he said. It was clearly agreed by the constitutional convention that the number of MSPs should be 129 in order to maintain proportionality. That was 73 constituency Members and 56 additional ones. The Government are already reneging on this agreement and we wonder why. If the Government want to reduce the Members at Westminster, there is no reason why this should affect the number of MSPs.
We do understand the argument about over-representation at Westminster. The situation is different for Scotland. The argument that there should be similar boundaries for both is not a good one. I have heard the Government put the argument that it is confusing for the electorate. I do not believe the electorate is really that stupid. It is already used to a range of different boundaries for different candidates for Westminster, for local government and for Europe, and it is also used to changing boundaries. This is a totally new situation and, therefore, different boundaries are part of the newness. What is much more confusing is to institute something new and then immediately start to change it. It is the worst of all worlds and it means that you are in a position of uncertainty from the word go. I believe also that it is politically inept because it gives a lever to opposition parties and has, as I am sure noble Lords already know, resulted in some not very favourable comment in the Scottish press.
Clarity, stability and consistency are essential for our new parliament and to signal that the original boundaries are to be changed within a short space of time is to launch with uncertainty for the future, create inconsistency from the beginning and undermine confidence from the start. I cannot believe that this is what the Government really want.
The figure of one hundred and twenty-nine MPs, as my noble kinsman has said, was agreed after much consultation in the constitutional convention in order to give the vital element of proportionality, which is the cornerstone of the new parliament and one of the key features which distinguishes it from Westminster. It is part of the reason, I believe, that the people of Scotland have responded with such enthusiasm and support for the parliament. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, acknowledged during the Committee stage of this Bill on 8th July that the greater proportionality built stability into the system, the stability that we want and need. The White Paper underlines this. To reduce the number from 129 reduces that proportionality. It thus erodes the very feature of stability which is so essential. Is this what the Government really want?
As I understand it the number of MSPs was also calculated, as we have already heard, on the ability of the MPs in the Scottish parliament to do the business effectively. We must have a parliament that works efficiently. We must have enough people there to do the 1595 job. We have also heard—and I must endorse this too—that any reduction would reduce the chances of smaller parties—like the Green Party, for example—to have some representation in the Scottish parliament. I believe that this is another important and distinguishing feature of the possibilities offered by the new Scottish parliament which was so appealing to the Scottish people. There is already some concern that what seemed to be so attractively on offer in the early days in terms of this wider representation, including even independent members, has diminished to virtually nothing.
The reduction proposed by the Government would narrow the base and diminish the opportunities. I believe that it is in complete opposition to the spirit of the proposals of the constitutional convention. As my noble kinsman said, the diminution of rural representation—we cannot allow that in a country such as ours—plays to the fears that in Scotland we shall have a parliament dominated by the central belt. That would be a real anathema.
Lastly, in purely practical terms, the new building will be designed to accommodate some number of MPs. Designing and building in facilities for an unspecified number could not be more impractical and costly, and is a hallmark of had management. I am sure that the Government would not wish to find themselves characterised as a bad manager. It is inevitable that if up to 20 members have to be provided for at the beginning who then melt away, the result will be an enormous waste. Such details are the hallmark of the quality of any operation. I believe that the signals are very bad.
I return to the terms of the stability, consistency and coherence so necessary at the start of any enterprise. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, who I see in his place, knows about good management, and the importance of good planning and attention to detail. One might say that the devil is often in the detail.
I do not believe that the insecurity which the Government are building into their plans is what they really want. It must be bad politics as well as bad management. We cannot support it.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, what the noble kinspeople have said is absolutely right. I agree with them. We have heard all about what happened in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The question is: why have we got where we are; and what will the Government do about it? The Government have a problem.
Let us remind ourselves why the constitutional convention decided as it did without regard to what might happen at Westminster. It was not asked to consider what happened at Westminster. Its terms of reference asked it to devise a scheme for Scotland and to sell it to the people of Scotland. That was reasonable enough. It did that. It did not consider this difficulty. If it considered the difficulty, it did not come within the terms of reference. I may be told that that is not so, but I looked up the terms of reference and spoke on the subject two Queen's Speeches ago, so I believe that I am right on that.
1596 The Government's problem is this. If there were as yet no Scottish National Party in existence, the implementation of this part of the Bill would bring about a Scottish national party. I say "the implementation" because it is only when it happens that the trouble will really begin. On the face of it, the Government's plan seems reasonable in the circumstances. It would be most convenient for voters to have the same constituencies for Westminster and for Holyrood. The description of the scheme in the White Paper, and given by the noble Lord in Committee in this Chamber, was very reasonable. It sounded sensible. If we are going to reduce the number of Members of the Scottish parliament, it is wise not to alter the balance between constituency Members and proportional representation Members, when one considers the problems that we already perceive of the effect that proportional representation may have on the way in which the electorate views the issue.
Most people agree that the number of Westminster MPs should be reduced. But let us imagine what will happen when that comes about. The Boundary Commission recommends a reduction in the number of Scots MPs at Westminster and the constituency boundaries. The elected members of the Scottish parliament have to be reduced, and the boundaries changed because of that. The Scottish parliament will explode. The Scottish National Party, which has been keeping rather quiet because it is just the kind of row for which it is waiting, will explode too. What is the solution proposed by Scotland? It is that the Westminster boundaries should not be changed. That is what will happen, and English MPs at Westminster will explode too, and with reason.
Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 looks and sounds reasonable. We all know why the problem has occurred. The Liberal Democrats know why the problem has occurred. It is right that the problem has to be solved. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has an amendment on this matter to which he will speak. The only alternative is that proposed by my noble friend and the Liberal Democrats. An inconvenience to Scots voters and to party campaigners which would not affect voters elsewhere in the UK is the least of two difficult alternatives.
There is a long history on this issue. We have a great problem. However, I believe that what my noble friend proposes, for which the amendment provides, is the only way forward.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Selkirk of Douglas
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on having 129 MPs. It would be an entirely wrong signal if we were to set up a parliament and inform those elected to it at the same time that a large proportion of their number would be axed shortly by the Boundary Commission.
In relation to the Westminster Parliament, because of the West Lothian question, the issue is quite different. If Stormont is a precedent to go by, the arguments for reducing the numbers in the House of Commons are 1597 substantial. On 24th July, the Secretary of State said in Hansard that due weight should be given to geographical consideration and local ties. I strongly believe that to be the case.
The Highlands and Islands of Scotland require a considerable number of representatives because of the immense distances involved. They need to have lifeline services both through air and ferry travel. There are also the health needs of those concerned. I could not help but recall a book written by the father-in-law of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, called Laxdale Hall. The story was that English politicians went to remote communities in the Highlands and Islands to advise them to live in centres of population and their problems would then be resolved; they would have plenty of public expenditure for which they were calling. That has occurred only in the case of St. Kilda. I do not seriously believe that any politician of any political party would advocate today the measures that were applied to the residents of St. Kilda, which had special circumstances. Even then that was an intensively controversial decision. The needs of remote rural communities are sufficiently strong to require a considerable number of representatives, so that the immense distances can be effectively covered.
At stake is whether the well-being of the Scots parliament should come first or the administrative convenience of the public servants who would have to draw up two sets of boundaries. I believe strongly that the well-being of the Scots parliament should come first: that continuity is important; and that to have immense chops and changes in numbers as soon as the parliament is created would give the wrong signal. It would be unsettling at the beginning of the parliament; and it would be neither desirable nor necessary. I hope most earnestly that the Minister will listen to the argument for 129 MSPs.
§ Lord Sempill
My Lords, I, too, strongly support this group of amendments. Since I was last in your Lordships' House I have been following the advice of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and have been actively pursuing my goal of winning a seat in the new Scottish parliament. That has enabled me to visit many doorsteps and speak to many people. In addition, I have taken opportunities to attend various forums.
I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, in his place because as Scottish Minister for Trade and Industry he recently addressed such a forum. It was held on Monday by the Scottish Council Foundation and I found the day most interesting. It comprised more than 100 Scottish businessmen, most from small businesses. Unfortunately, the noble Lord had to leave after his address—his keynote speech—and missed some of the later discussions.
Having attended various such forums and had many doorstep conversations, I wish to make the following points. I maintain that there is a high expectation of what the parliament will deliver, but underlying that is a strong mood of uncertainty. The potential cut in numbers is a divisive issue and I, too, strongly recommend the Government to look at it carefully.
1598 The new parliament will need time to establish credibility. I do not know whether that will be in the first or second session, but it will certainly be a five-year period.
The Scottish media are describing Scottish representatives in the other place as being marginalised. I maintain that the constituency MSPs will have stronger relationships with the electorate. The Scottish electorate will expect a great deal more from their MSPs than they have from their Westminster MPs purely and simply because they will be on their doorsteps and ready and available to be spoken to. Following from discussions earlier today, I point out that there will be substantially more discussion in a unicameral chamber. I maintain that if the committee consultative system is to be run there must be a minimum of 120 members. It is on that issue that I underline my support for this group of amendments.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the nationalists will see the move as an opportunity because they will offer the one thing that it will create—greater representation by going independent. That must be taken into consideration.
Finally, I make a gardening analogy. Plants when put into the ground take time to root. Heavy pruning can have two results, but certainly we could end up with a plant which has many more thorns than flowers. I caution the Government that if there were ever a time to stay with 129 members it is now.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, the success of the devolution project will depend on the confidence of the Scottish people. That confidence will come from the achievement of the correct level of autonomy for Scotland in the medium term. I expect that more powers will be sought by the Scottish people and their parliament and that the list of reserved matters will be reduced over the years. While recognising that there is a paradoxical demand in Scotland for political autonomy and to remain British, I believe that the Scottish parliament will become more busy than I first predicted. In that circumstance, it will be necessary to retain all 129 members to carry out the increase in work. I suspect that the original Liberal Democrat proposal for 145 members will come to be seen as correct. However, that was not the agreement reached.
Any attempt to reduce the membership in the near future will be placed dangerously as a gift at the feet of those with a separatist agenda and no doubt a parliament with abundantly adequate membership.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, the grouping is complex and I do not complain about it. It contains four or five sub-groups, all of which relate to the same issue. I am talking to the group in my name, which starts with Amendment No. 4. However, my amendments and those in the group tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, address the same issue, as do those in the group tabled by my noble friend Lord Rowallan.
I am a little puzzled by Amendment No. 3. Perhaps I may do what those on the Liberal Democrat Benches do and give the ministerial reply—that it seems to be 1599 totally and absolutely unnecessary. The first line of Schedule 1 reads:The constituencies for the purposes of this Act are".Amendment No. 3 would have it read:The constituencies of the Scottish Parliament for the purposes of this Act are".As the Bill is for the purpose of establishing the Scottish parliament, the amendment is meaningless and suggests that the poor Liberal Democrats do not understand the words in the Bill. They are wasting the time of the House by tabling amendments which are so totally unnecessary—as I have been told myself on a number of occasions.
I have a suspicion that they tabled the amendment knowing that it was totally unnecessary, especially given the next three words, because they wanted to move this group ahead of mine. Perhaps that is an evil suspicion which shows that I have not understood what consensual politics are about. But I have no doubt that they want it to be consensual enough for me to marshal my forces in the Lobby with them a little later tonight. Perhaps they should have been a little less confrontational.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, we are not being confrontational at all. The noble Lord has called me a camp follower and I have accepted that. Surely, that is a state of bliss for a Scotsman.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am not a convert to non-confrontational politics. I am happily in confrontational politics; it is the noble Lord and his party who want non-confrontational politics.
The point about the two groups—that is, Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22 in the name of the Liberal Democrats, 4, 7, 10 to 15 and 19 which are in my name, and 16 to 18 and 20 in the name of my noble friend Lord Rowallan—is that they address the problem in which the Government are caught. The provision comes from Holy Grail and it is unfortunate that no one noticed a contradiction. Page 13 of the White Paper states:The distribution of seats in the House of Commons will be reviewed by the Parliamentary Boundary Commission which follow criteria defined in statute … The Government have decided that in the next review this requirement will no longer apply".That is contained in Clause 82 of the Bill.
Unfortunately for the Government, the Holy Grail later states that members of the Scottish parliament will be elected for each of the current Westminster constituencies. So they got caught in the trap that inevitably they must either uncouple the Scottish members of parliament from the Westminster constituencies or they must reduce the number of Scottish members of parliament. That is the dilemma that faces the Government and at the moment they are not prepared to resolve it.
However, we know that the Scottish Office is keen to resolve the issue and understands the political points. There is a point about the daftness of building a parliament for 129 members and reducing the number to 108 three or four years down the line. There is also a daftness about giving the Scottish National Party such 1600 an obviously good campaigning issue as saying that the Scottish parliament is so much a lackey of Westminster that when Westminster reduces its numbers the Scottish parliament has to fall into line and "Dae as it's telt". I could write the copy myself. We know that the poor Government and the Scottish Office understand that.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from the Scotsman in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. An article appeared in that newspaper in the summer by Severin Carrell and Peter MacMahon, its political correspondents. It says this—and it is the problem that the Government have—Tony Blair has personally overruled an appeal from Donald Dewar to protect the number of MSPs who will sit at Holyrood, dealing an embarrassing blow to the Scottish Secretary in his fight against the Nationalists.Mr. Dewar, hacked by Scottish Office ministers, wanted to redraft the Scotland Bill to remove a clause which would bring about a reduction of up to 21 MSPs in the first few years of the parliament's life.However, some Scottish ministers will fear that Mr. Blair has played directly into the hands of the Scottish National Party, reinforcing claims by its leader, Alex Salmond, that policies for Scotland are being dictated by Downing Street … But a Downing Street spokesman said last night that Mr. Blair would not support any changes to the bill because he believes the Government should stick to its initial proposals, made in last year's devolution white paper";that is, despite the contradiction to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention. The article continues:In a statement which caught Mr. Dewar's aides by surprise, the spokesman said: 'The white paper stands. It will not he changed"'.It is no wonder that in the same article the polls discovered that Alex Salmond is the favourite to be the Scottish First Minister by 42 per cent. over Mr. Dewar's 37 per cent. I know that the polls have improved slightly for the governing party in recent weeks in Scotland. However, the day that all this comes about Mr. Alex Salmond will be laughing all the way to the political bank.
Therefore, I cannot think of anything dafter for the Government to do than to say to this parliament, "You can start off with 129 members, but when the House of Commons inevitably reduces that number to about 58 Scottish members, thanks to Clause 82 of the Bill, your numbers will be reduced in a similar manner—in fact, even more so, because you have to lose another seven to keep the balance of proportionality right".
I believe that that is straightforwardly bad politics. Why should I be trying to save the Labour Government from themselves? As I mentioned earlier this afternoon, the problem is that I live in Scotland so I have to take the castor oil along with the Government—I do not particularly want to—and see the Scottish National Party run my country and move it to independence and break up the Union. Therefore, I hope that the Government are going to listen and amend the Bill accordingly because nothing short of that will do.
There are two other groups of amendments. Amendment No. 11 is a particular hobby-horse of mine. I shall not rehearse it because I shall get an opportunity later to do so. When the Scottish parliamentary boundary commission makes up the seats for the Scottish parliament, it ought to take more account of the 1601 electoral quota than it has in the past. The simple fact of the matter is that in the past boundary commissions in Scotland have created the most ludicrous positions in the contrast between the numbers of constituents in constituencies. For example, the city of Edinburgh has an average of 62,000 per constituency whereas Glasgow has 51,500. The conclusion may be that Glasgow MPs are not capable of looking after as many constituents as Edinburgh MPs. That may be true.
Out in the country, for example, the seat of Ross, Skye and Inverness West held by the Liberal Democrats has 56,000 constituents, which is just above the quota. However, it is a huge seat in one geographical area. Even bigger at 66,500 constituents is Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber. There is also the constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley with 66,500 constituents. There are others like postage stamps such as Baillieston with 49,000 constituents; Shettleston with 48,000 and Hamilton South with 47,000. They exist in areas where one could walk from one end to the other without breaking sweat.
I shall not even be tempted to speculate because I annoyed the Government Benches when I did so on the last occasion. The amazing fact is that most of the pocket handkerchief constituencies are in West Central Scotland and for a moment I cannot think why that should be. That deals with Amendment No. 11.
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are rather different. I have to say to the Liberal Democrats that I cannot support Amendment No. 24. The noble Lord did not speak to it, I believe, but it states that if the Government were to go ahead with the proposal and reduce the number of members of the Scottish parliament by 14 first-past-the-post members, they would then have to increase the number of top-up members from 56 to 70. That means that there would be more top-up members than first-past-the-post members. Personally, I do not approve of that. Given the d'Hondt formula and the regions, the Government have probably got it about right at seven additional members per region. If one seeks to achieve proportionality that is probably about the best number. It does not work in every case, but it does in most. It is certainly hugely better than the four additional members allowed in Wales, which is an inadequate number of top-ups. If one has too many top-ups the parliament becomes largely composed of people who do not represent constituents. My noble friend Lord Sempill made a very valid point in that respect.
Your Lordships know that I do not particularly approve of top-ups or any form of fiddled voting, but if we are to have them then we must keep them in decent proportion. I believe that the Government have got that proportion about right and therefore I could not vote in favour of the Liberal Democrat amendment. I assume that it is something of a backstop to the other amendments.
I do not know how your Lordships and the Government are going to disentangle the complexity of the amendments. I re-echo the position that Scottish Office Ministers have clearly implied; namely, that this is a smoking gun in the body politic in Scotland. If the 1602 Government do not do something about it then those of us who believe in the Union will bitterly regret it when it comes about that the Scottish National Party use it as a launching pad for Scottish independence.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by being uncharacteristically hypothetical. It may help your Lordships, in considering these amendments, which are likely to result in Divisions, that if Amendment No. 3 is agreed to on a Division the Government will accept that decision as applying also to Amendments Nos. 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22. If Amendment No. 4 is agreed to on Division the Government will accept that decision as applying also to Amendments Nos. 7, 10 and 12 to 15. I hope that indicates the structure within which we shall be making decisions this evening.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has indicated, these amendments cover a rather complex range of issues. We come down to the question of size of the parliament. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. He is not in his place, but he indicated at a very early stage that he thought that this was a matter of considerable importance and he wished to bring it back for a decision today at Report stage. I also freely recognise the issue of principle which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, raised. He is as close to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as he is ever likely to get on that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has made clear his support for the proposition that the size of the parliament should be fixed. If I am unable to give noble Lords the answer they would like, I hope that they will not think it is because we have somehow dismissed the case in some cavalier way. We have not. We have looked at the matter thoroughly, but come to a different view from those put forward by your Lordships who spoke earlier. I shall try to explain how we have reached our view.
Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, closely resemble amendments which the House considered at Committee stage. They seek to break the link between constituencies for the UK Parliament and those for the Scottish parliament. During that earlier debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, supported the Liberal Democrats and has tabled amendments to achieve a similar end. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, again returns to the same theme. His amendments are intended to break the link but have an interesting twist by amending the rules under which the Boundary Commission is to work. It would fix for all time the number of members of the Scottish parliament at 129.
As I have indicated, we have approached this somewhat differently. Our starting point is the priority we give to maintaining the link between Westminster and the Scottish parliament constituencies. That is a thread that ran throughout the discussions in the constitutional convention and in the proposals contained in the White Paper.
We recognise that that will cause a reduction in the size of the parliament, but we do not believe that that will have unmanageable consequences for the 1603 parliament. We believe that by maintaining that link we provide something which is understandable, clear and simple: the idea that you live in a constituency and, in that constituency, you can vote for a Member of the Westminster Parliament and you can vote for a member of the Scottish parliament. It is simple and obvious. There is no confusion; it is absolutely straight.
I have difficulty with the accusation in this debate that the Government have somehow reneged on a commitment they gave, a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I dispute that. The Government have in no way reneged but have maintained a consistent position throughout.
First, let us look at the constitutional convention. The constitutional convention's number was 129. That is not some magic number; you would have to be quite perverse to pull down 129, of all numbers, as somehow the ideal number for the size of the Scottish parliament. There was a process—an argument—that developed the figure of 129. It was quite simple. The starting point was the Westminster constituencies—the 72 Westminster constituencies presently existing—plus the splitting of Orkney and Shetland, which gave 73, and then the proportional factor of seven additional seats for the eight regional groupings. But the fundamental point, the driver to arrive at 129, was the number of Westminster constituencies. That has always been there.
I entirely accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The possibility—indeed the probability—of a reduction in the size of the Scottish parliament is made absolutely explicit in the White Paper. There is no reneging. I take great exception to the idea that we are somehow pulling out this proposal in a duplicitous manner.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he know whether the constitutional convention took account of the fact that the number of Westminster seats in Scotland might be reduced? It did not have to, as I pointed out in my speech, but I wonder whether it did. It is just a point of interest for the House.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. My point was that, in arriving at 129, the constitutional convention started with and was driven in its calculations by the driver of the 73 Westminster constituencies. The noble Baroness is quite right, it did not consider the possibility of a reduction in the number of Westminster constituencies. It is not surprising that its recommendations are implicitly silent on what the effect would be on the size of the Scottish parliament if there were a reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster.
In introducing the White Paper, we accepted the argument—and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was a strong advocate of the argument—that we should move away from the requirement placed on the Boundary Commission to maintain the present level of representation in Scotland. We made that clear in the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament. I will quote for the sake of completeness. Paragraph 4.5 of the White Paper states: 1604The Government have decided that in the next review this requirement will no longer apply".We then move on to the relationship between the Westminster seats and the size of the Scottish parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has identified, that is dealt with in paragraph 8.7 of the White Paper. It says,Any changes in Westminster constituencies will result in changes to Scottish parliamentary constituencies; and may also lead to consequential adjustments to the size of the Scottish parliament so as to maintain the present balance between constituency and additional Member seats.So it has been there, it has been open and it has been explicit. It may be absolutely reasonable to argue and disagree with the Government's proposals, to disagree with what is contained in the White Paper, and to disagree with the process behind that proposition. But it is not fair and it is not reasonable to say, in any sense, that the Government have reneged on any undertaking that they gave. They did not; they have not; and they will not.
I can assure the House that we have thought carefully about the implications for the parliament of a reduction in size. It would be a matter of major concern if the size of the parliament were so reduced that it somehow affected the efficient and effective internal workings of the parliament. We simply do not believe that that will be the case. The size of any likely reduction would not be such that the parliament would be unable to carry out its key roles of scrutinising effectively Scottish legislation and enacting that legislation.
We must keep this debate in proportion. On any realistic assessment, we are not contemplating cutting the membership of the parliament by a half, a third, or even a quarter. Yes, there will be a reduction, but attempts to cast the Government in a role of carrying out some sort of cull of the innocents is not a fair description of what is likely to happen. It is virtually certain that the size of the Scottish parliament—even after the review of the Westminster constituencies—will still comprise more than 100 members. That is a reasonable, proper size for a parliament at Holyrood. It is a size which will enable it to do its job, and to do that job properly.
Turning briefly to Amendment No. 11, this is a slightly different amendment from the others in this particular grouping. It really returns to a point which I know is close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and it deals with the size of constituencies. The noble Lord again reveals his mathematical past in providing us with a formula. If I interpret his formula properly, he is attempting to ensure that all but seven of the constituencies for the Scottish parliament are within a 10 per cent. margin of the electoral quota. The noble Lord has promised us that he will return to this issue somewhat later in our debates.
The only point I would make is that issue properly rests with the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission is given a series of rules. The desire to get equality of size is one of the important factors, but the Boundary Commission is allowed to take into account other factors, like special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of the 1605 constituency, and also local sentiment and feeling. At this stage, my only argument would be that once the rules have been set—I do not think the rules can be set in a strictly mathematical way—we should leave it to the Boundary Commission to get on with the job.
Amendment No. 24 takes another tack. It accepts coterminous constituencies and compensates for any reduction in numbers by increasing the number of regional members. Here I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, because what we have sought to do throughout the whole discussion on the size of the parliament is to maintain the balance between the number of members of the Scottish parliament elected under the first-past-the-post provision and the number who are coming through under the so-called corrective mechanism of additional members. Amendment No. 24 significantly upsets that balance. I can appreciate the main objective, which is to secure a particular number, but it has chosen the wrong way of going about securing that number by increasing disproportionately and upsetting the balance in favour of the additional member seats.
I realise that the issue of the size of the Scottish parliament is of considerable importance to many noble Lords. I believe that it is of importance. I believe that our approach is right. I believe that our approach has been consistent, straight and honest throughout. But I do make this point and I ask noble Lords to reflect upon it. We are setting up the Scottish parliament which will initially have 129 members. They will set about their work. I am sure that they will do it well and that they will find that they have sufficient people to do it. I think they will recognise that their work would not be adversely affected by a reduction in their overall number. But if, during the course of the early years of the parliament, they take the view that a reduction in the size of the parliament would have an adverse effect on the way it functioned and operated, it is clearly open to the parliament to petition the United Kingdom Parliament and seek an amendment to the Bill.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, will the noble Lord not consider the effect on the state of morale of many members of the parliament when they are thinking of the problems of Scotland and realising that 20 of them will have to go long before they have got anywhere with it? That is an important point which the noble Lord has not considered.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I do not think that the size of the Scottish parliament or indeed the size of the other place should be determined by the sensitivities of the members who inhabit it. The size of a parliament has to be justified by means other than perhaps the slight disadvantage and discomfiture that may be caused to its members when the size is reviewed from time to time.
I return to my final point. It is clearly open to the Scottish parliament, if in its early years it feels that a reduction in its size would seriously and significantly affect the way it operated and put its functioning at risk, to make a case to this Parliament 1606 and say, "Look, on the basis of experience, we need a change", and it would be up to this Parliament and the United Kingdom Government to reach a balanced view. I believe that is a sensible and reasonable way forward.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in this very interesting debate. I note that many noble Lords have chosen to speak in support of the amendment—in varying degrees and with varying degrees of reluctance—and I also note that no noble Lord has chosen to support the Government's position. That is, as I said in my opening remarks, because the Government's position is insupportable.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I have taken the view that I want to save time and get on with the business, which is why I have not spoken.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I am so glad that we have in our midst an economist in the 19th century sense. I do not want to refer to the individual contributions of many of your Lordships but I should like to refer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. When he finished pulling my tail, I understood him to say that he would indeed be supporting us. As I said when opening the debate, I always enjoy being teased by the noble Lord because it usually means that I have got it right. However, I must say that support from him is a little like sniffing the fragrant bloom of a cactus in the desert—you have to be very careful how close you get. I am nonetheless grateful for that support. If he is an unwilling convert to the idea of consensual politics, I promise to go gently with him.
At the end of my opening speech I said that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, would come to the Dispatch Box with his usual courtesy, honeyed with humour, and that I hoped he would let his heart speak instead of the brief in front of him. I got it slightly wrong. He certainly came with his usual courtesy but chose instead ire and obfuscation as his defence of the Government's position. I do not think it hid the weakness of his position. It all comes down to one simple fact. Someone, somewhere—I do not know where—thinks it is a jolly good idea if every constituency in Westminster and every constituency in Scotland has identical boundaries. I do not think for one moment that there is a single voter who knows where the boundaries of his constituency are. It is only those of us in politics who are exercised about that. It is not a matter of great importance. It is simply a neat little administrative parcel.
I come back to the three arguments I gave your Lordships at the beginning of the debate. The Government's position is quite contrary to that set out in the constitutional convention; it will inevitably mean a reduction in the efficiency and working capacity of the 1607 Scottish parliament; and it will reduce the representative nature of that parliament and make it more difficult for minorities and other parties to take part. I believe I made that argument convincingly and the support which your Lordships have been kind enough to give me makes me believe that I should ask the opinion of the House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 103; Not-Contents, 94.1608
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Bath, M.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Montrose, D.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Newby, L.|
|Byford, B.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Cadman, L.||Nickson, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Carlisle, E.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Pender, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Denham, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Dholakia, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Renton, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Renwick, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Russell, E.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Ryder of Wensum, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Howe of Aberavon, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Jacobs, L.||Stair, E.|
|Kingsland, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Sudeley, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Lucas, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L. [Teller.]|
|Luke, L.||Thurso, V. [Teller.]|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|McNair, L.||Warnock, B.|
|McNally, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|Maddock, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Wise, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Amos, B.||Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Bach, L.||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Balfour, E.||Levy, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Berkeley, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Blease, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Christopher, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|David, B.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Desai, L.||Puttnam, L.|
|Diamond, L||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Richard, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Gilbert, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Goudie, B.||Serota, B.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Sewel, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hacking, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Hayman, B.||Tryon, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Uddin, B.|
|Hoyle, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 60, line 7, after ("Islands,") insert—
("() the Western Isles,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a small amendment. Despite the amendment which has been carried, it is still in the text of the Bill. I checked that during the last debate.
§ It addresses the question of why Orkney and Shetland are mentioned specifically and the Western Isles are not. I put the argument in Committee and I shall not go over it at length. But if Orkney and Shetland are mentioned specifically as two areas which should be constituencies 1609 on their own account in the Scottish parliament, so also should the Western Isles. I made the same case in relation to what was Clause 81 and is now Clause 82 about the United Kingdom Parliament.
In reply in Committee the Minister described my point as a fair one. He said:
We had presumed that the geographical nature of the Western Isles would result in their forming a single constituency for all time, although I recognise that, the way the Bill is framed, that is not guaranteed. However, I shall be more than happy to take back this matter and consider the point further".—[Official Report, 8/7/98; cols. 1328–29.]
Before the last Boundary Commission, there was some serious conversation and talk of the Western Isles being joined with Skye. Given modern transport methods, that argument, which once would not even have begun to run, is now something for which one could put forward a reasonable submission. I do not believe that even the reasonableness of that submission should in any way add the Western Isles to any other part of Scotland, including Skye. I should simply like a little protection in the Bill.
§ I will not go on at length. The Minister said that he was sympathetic and I hope to hear from him that he will accept my amendment. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, it was my understanding at Committee stage that the Government accepted this amendment. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, wishes it, we shall support him.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I have to put a stop to this somehow. The arguments on the merit of providing in the Bill an entrenched position for the Western Isles as a separate constituency have been well aired. I took many of the arguments that were made in Committee and have thought about the case since. However, I am not persuaded.
We would start again with the question of why we were putting in the Bill the provision for separate constituencies for Orkney and Shetland. The reason is simple. At the moment Orkney and Shetland form a single Westminster constituency. To provide for separate Holyrood constituencies for Orkney and Shetland it is necessary to make that explicit in the Bill because of the way in which the building blocks of the Westminster constituencies drive the number and structure of the electoral arrangements for Holyrood.
In relation to the Western Isles there is no need to do that. The Western Isles is already a separate parliamentary constituency and there is no need to secure a separate representation of the Western Isles by putting that provision in the Bill. The effect of putting Orkney and Shetland into the Bill gives a degree of entrenchment to those arrangements, but the entrenchment is not the purpose behind that. The purpose is to create two separate constituencies in the first place.
The difficulty is that if we start from the basis of somehow entrenching present arrangements or the arrangements one wants in terms of constituencies, we 1610 are faced with the difficulty of where to draw the line. Strong arguments will be put forward from a whole number of constituencies that that constituency, as it exists at the present time, should never be changed. If we went down that road, we would be in the strange position where some constituencies in Scotland would be somehow entrenched—fixed for all time—and in others there could be adjustments over a period of time in the light of Boundary Commission decisions.
I can understand the reason why the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, tabled the amendment. But it is based on a misunderstanding of why the Orkney and Shetland provision is in the Bill in the first place. As I said, it is necessary to put them in the Bill in order to create two Holyrood constituencies out of what is one Westminster constituency. That does not apply to the Western Isles.
It may be argued that at some future date the Western Isles may be associated with another part of Scotland in a single constituency. But I have greater faith in the ability of the Western Isles to argue the case. The distinctive social, cultural, economic and even political values of that part of the world are such that I would rest assured that the Boundary Commission would find it extremely difficult to disturb the arrangement which exists at the moment. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I understand why Schedule 1 mentions the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. I suspect, due to one of the deals in the constitutional convention, it was decided that the Orkney and Shetland constituency (which works perfectly happily for Westminster) should be divided for reasons of the Scottish parliament.
The point is that it does that not only the first time, but unless I am mistaken it entrenches that position so that even if a future Boundary Commission decided to put them together or to add to Orkney what is the fairly nearby Caithness, it would not be allowed to do so. When one goes to Clause 82, which involves the arrangements at Westminster, there again the position of Orkney and Shetland is entrenched.
I am therefore not persuaded by the argument that the Western Isles is different. I see no reason why it should not be entrenched. The noble Lord says we should leave it to the common sense of future boundary commissioners. If so, I suggest that for the purposes of the first election and perhaps the second one also, Orkney and Shetland should be two different constituencies. Thereafter it should be left to the good sense of the Boundary Commission. The Minister cannot plead with me that I should leave the Western Isles to the Boundary Commission's good sense and not leave Orkney and Shetland to the same good sense.
In order to get this matter out of the way, I shall ask the opinion of the House so that the Stornoway Gazette can at least print some of the proceedings in your Lordships' Chamber.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 83.1612
|Division No. 3|
|Addington, L.||Meston, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Bath, M.||Montrose, D.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Newby, L.|
|Burnham, L. [Teller.]||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Byford, B.||Nickson, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Carlisle, E.||Ogmore, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Denham, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Renton, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Renwick, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Rowallan, L. [Teller.]|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Russell, E.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Ryder of Wensum, L.|
|Jacobs, L.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Kingsland, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Ludford, B.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|McNair, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|McNally, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Maddock, B.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Thurso, V.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Gilbert, L.|
|Alli, L.||Gordon of Strathblane, L.|
|Amos, B.||Goudie, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Bach, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Grenfell, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Hacking, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Borrie, L.||Hardie, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Hardy of Wath, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Hayman, B.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Hoyle, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Hughes, L.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|David, B.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.|
|Diamond, L.||Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Levy, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Serota, B.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Simon, V.|
|Molloy, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Monkswell, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Plant of Highfield, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Puttnam, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 60, line 9, at end insert—
(" . The parliamentary constituencies to which paragraph 1(c) applies are those determined by the Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) Order 1995, or those Scottish parliamentary constituencies determined following a report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland under paragraph 3 of this Schedule, except a parliamentary constituency including either of those islands referred to in paragraph 1(a) and (b).").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 8:
§ Page 60, leave out lines 15 to 17.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Serota): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 9, I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 10 to 20.
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No, 9:
§ Page 60, leave out lines 18 to 37 and insert—
§ ("Redistribution of Scottish Parliamentary constituencies
§ 3.—(l) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall keep under review the representation in the Scottish Parliament and shall submit to the Scottish Executive a report either—
- (a) showing the constituencies into which they recommend that Scotland should be divided in order to give effect to the
1613 rules set out in Schedule 2 (subject to paragraph 7 thereof) to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 ("the 1986 Act") in so far as they apply to Scotland, or
- (b) stating that, in the opinion of the Commission, no alteration is required to be made in order to give effect to the rules set out in Schedule 2 (subject to paragraph 7 thereof) to the 1986 Act.
§ (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 81 of this Act, the rules in Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act as they apply to Scotland shall have effect in relation to the redistribution of the parliamentary constituencies referred to in paragraph 1(c) above.
§ (3) Subject to sub-paragraph (5) below, the provisions of sections 3, 5 and 6 of the 1986 Act shall, in so far as they apply to Scotland, have effect in relation to the reports and the workings of the Boundary Commission for Scotland's review of parliamentary constituencies for the Parliament.
§ (4) Subject to sub-paragraph (5), the provisions of section 4 of the 1986 Act shall have effect in relation to the draft of any Order in Council laid before the Parliament by the Scottish Executive for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland.
§ (5) References to the Secretary of State in the 1986 Act shall, for the purposes of this paragraph, be construed as references to the Scottish Executive and references to Parliament in the 1986 Act shall be construed as references to the Parliament.
§ (6) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall submit their first report under this paragraph to the Scottish Executive no later than 30th June 2003.
§ (7) In that report, the Commission shall also recommend any alteration in any of the regions which, in their opinion, is required to give effect to the rules in paragraph 7 below.
§ (8) If the Commission do not make any recommendation under sub-paragraph (7), they shall in the report state that, in their opinion, no such alteration is required.
§ (9) A report making a recommendation for an alteration in any region shall state the name by which the Commission recommend that the region should be known.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 10 to 20 not moved.]
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 21:
§ Page 60, leave out lines 38 to 43.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 22:
§ Page 60, line 46, leave out ("3(2)") and insert ("3(7)").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale moved Amendment No. 23:
§ Page 61, line 45, leave out from ("practicable") to end of line 46 and insert (", save to the extent required by rule 2A below.
§ 2A. The electorates of the regions shall be such that the representation of predominantly rural regions in relation to the representation of predominantly urban regions is comparable, so far as practicable, to that achieved by the distribution of places in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, when the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, spoke of rural Scotland, it came to my mind that when I first came back to Scotland as a boy, having been born and reared abroad, I was struck by the fact that it is a rural country. It is not a country of towns; it is a country of countryside. Most of the people who live there are farmers or crofters. My amendment is drafted with that fact in mind.1614
§ The Scottish Constitutional Convention made a brave effort to anticipate the danger that the Scottish parliament would be dominated by the central belt from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I am afraid that its solution would not achieve what it seeks.
§ Perhaps I may consider the proposed Euroconstituencies one by one. Strathclyde East will range from Kilmarnock to East Kilbride and, if my eyesight is not misleading me, even to Strathaven, Stonehouse and Carluke. Strathclyde West will range from Paisley and Greenock to Dumbarton. Mid-Scotland will range from Stirling to St. Andrews and the constituency of the South of Scotland will range from Ayr to Dumfries, Peebles, Jedburgh, Hawick, Galashiels and Lauder, where I belong. All those towns are to some extent colonies either of Glasgow or of Edinburgh.
§ The problem is not a new one. It has been faced and, to a certain extent, solved over the years by CoSLA, the now well-established and respected Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Earlier we discussed the possibility of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament. I suggest that CoSLA is an obvious source of recruits for such a chamber, but be that as it may. That body maintains an agricultural forum—I believe that that is the term—and has devised a complicated system to make sure that the conurbations do not predominate.
§ The CoSLA arrangements do not hinge on the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies; let alone on those for the European Parliament, but on groupings of district council areas. The CoSLA constitution contains a distribution of seats weighted towards councils with a lower population density. Thus, the Orkneys, with a population of only 1,800, have three seats whereas the city of Glasgow (representing 616,430) is given only eight seats. In other words, there are more than 77,000 electors per seat.
§ I believe it would be impossible now to combine such a system with that already in the Bill. Had I thought of the CoSLA experience in time, I would have sought at Committee stage to rearrange the extra constituencies on a pattern that has proved so successful with CoSLA. At this stage of the Bill I am advised it would be far too complicated, if not also improper, to try to remake the whole machinery of the Bill to fit this pattern. So the best we can seriously hope for is that this will be taken on board by the Boundary Commission when the time comes. Only then, I submit, can Scotland's rural areas achieve the voice they deserve in the Scottish parliament, which, one hopes, will by then have earned sufficient prestige to enable a radical overhaul to be taken in hand. I beg to move.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, my noble friend takes us to a future election—that is an important point to make—and right into an addendum, so to speak, to the rules which will govern the drawing up of the new regional boundaries. One of the slightly daft propositions in front of us is that the regions we shall use next May are the regions for the European elections, and yet the same Government who want to 1615 use these regions have abolished European elections using single member constituencies. Therefore the regions no longer have any validity, if they ever did have, as regards electing a Scottish parliament. However, as my noble friend said, he accepts it is too late to do anything about these regions now. He proposes one of the factors that the Boundary Commission should take into account when it decides on the regions after the first elections.
I think my noble friend has a good point in suggesting that the Boundary Commission should look to the practice of CoSLA. I do not think he has drafted his amendment so that the practice has to be the same as that of CoSLA, but he seeks to use the representation adopted by CoSLA to create a balance between the predominantly rural regions in Scotland and the urban regions. I believe that earlier the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, mentioned the fear felt by many in rural Scotland that they will be dominated by west/central Scotland in particular. My noble friend's amendment makes some sense because the regions as currently constituted are pretty disparate as regards their numbers. A figure of seven per region means that Glasgow, which is already over-represented, will receive the same number as, for example, the north-east region of Scotland which in terms of Glasgow is under-represented. In fact, in terms of Glasgow everywhere else in Scotland is under-represented. However, I do not wish to return to that argument.
If one were using the regional top-up to try to smooth out these inequalities from the first-past-the-post system, something along the lines of my noble friend's suggestion would be sensible. If the Government will not accept my noble friend's amendment, they should at least say that they will give other instructions to the Boundary Commission which would achieve the same kind of objective; namely, a rebalancing inside Scotland of the power base, as it were, between rural Scotland and urban Scotland.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, wonders never cease. I have heard two speeches from the Benches opposite praising CoSLA. I never thought I would live to see this day!
This amendment deals with the noble Earl's views of the proper representation that should be given to rural areas. We agree it is important that we have a parliament which represents the diversity of Scotland. However, we think that the electoral arrangements provided for in the Bill will provide that all areas of Scotland will be properly represented. That was one of the reasons we decided on the Euro constituency unit and the equal number of representatives from the individual Euro areas.
Amendment No. 23 deals with representatives in the parliament. However, instead of altering the number of electors per constituency, the noble Earl is seeking to alter the rules for the determination of the boundaries of electoral regions.
At present, paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 requires the electorate of a region to be as near to that of the other regions as is reasonably practicable, having regard to special geographical considerations. The amendment 1616 would replace the provision for special geographical considerations with a requirement for the representation of rural and urban regions to be comparable to the distribution of places in CoSLA. I understand that we are talking about the full convention meeting of CoSLA rather than any of its other institutions.
I understand that the noble Earl seeks to ensure that the special needs of rural areas are taken into account in determining the size and representation of electoral regions for the parliament. I believe that the approach which the Boundary Commission takes already achieves that and I do not believe that his amendment would improve the position.
Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I did not draft the present constitution of CoSLA but I drafted the third from present constitution. CoSLA goes through constitutions with as much speed and regularity as happens in France. As I understand it, representation on CoSLA is determined solely by the population of each local authority, with a minimum representation of three. This means that representation ranges from the smallest councils with three representatives each to the City of Glasgow with seven. Therefore, an authority with a population of about 50,000 has three representatives, whereas an authority such as Glasgow with a population of about 1 million has seven representatives. That is too great an imbalance and inequality to form an effective base for representation in the parliament.
No account is taken of the physical size or geography of the authority area. Thus Highland and Renfrewshire, with broadly similar populations, both have five representatives, despite Highland covering nearly 100 times the land area of Renfrewshire. That is all right for the kind of body that CoSLA is, but it is not a sound basis on which to base representation in the Scottish parliament. I do not wish to cast any aspersions on CoSLA's rules. They have been determined by that body to meet its own requirements and its own circumstances. However, they are not designed for the purposes of an electoral system.
Schedule 1 to the Bill already allows special geographical considerations to be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. That is right and proper. I believe that this provides sufficient safeguard that the special needs of rural areas can be considered. In Committee I explained that Highlands and Islands and the south of Scotland, two of the most rural areas of Scotland, with 21.1 per cent. of the electorate will have 24 per cent. of the seats in the Scottish parliament. That is a sound and reasonable outcome. If the amendment is accepted, and at any time in the future CoSLA for its own reasons changed its formula, that would have to be reflected in the electoral arrangements for the Scottish parliament. Clearly we cannot have the electoral arrangements for the Scottish parliament being determined by a third party. That would be totally wrong.
I hope the noble Earl recognises that rural Scotland will be well and properly represented in the parliament. It will certainly not be under-represented. As I said, taking the two most rural areas together, Highlands and Islands and the south of Scotland, we find that those two 1617 areas, which account for 21.1 per cent. of the population, obtain 24 per cent. of the representation. I believe that that is about right. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to withdraw his amendment.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for that response. To compare Highlands and Islands with the Borders is to compare an area of crofters with a farming area. Their interests, customs and mores are very different.
The Minister was rather surprised that I referred to CoSLA. In my remarks at Second Reading I suggested, and still believe, that CoSLA, which has proven political experience, might well have provided much valuable experience to the Scottish parliament had the noble Lord not earlier rejected the idea of the parliament one day having a second chamber. CoSLA might have been the source from which members of a second chamber would come. However, that is water under the bridge.
I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply. I am afraid that I must ask the House to decide for or against the amendment.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 23) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 105.1618
|Division No. 4|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Byford, B.||Milverton, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Northesk, E.|
|Cross, V.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Renton, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Renwick, L.|
|Kenilworth, L.||Rowallan, L. [Teller.]|
|Kingsland, L.||Selkirk of Douglas, L.|
|Lauderdale, E. [Teller.]||Sempill, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Addington, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Crawley, B.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Currie of Marylebone, L.|
|Alli, L.||Davies of Oldham, L.|
|Amos, B.||Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Desai, L.|
|Bach, L.||Dholakia, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Dubs, L.|
|Bath, M.||Evans of Watford, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Falconer of Thoroton, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Falkland, V.|
|Blease, L.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Borrie, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Gilbert, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Goodhart, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Gordon of Strathblane, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Goudie, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Ogmore, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Puttnam, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Hughes, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Sawyer, L.|
|Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Kennedy of The Shaws, B.||Serota, B.|
|Kintore, E.||Sewel, L.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Simon, V.|
|Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Levy, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|McNally, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Maddock, B.||Thurso, V.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Meston, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.||Whitty, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 [Ordinary general elections]:
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 2, line 5, at end insert—
("() The date of the first ordinary election appointed by an order under subsection (1) may not coincide with the date of elections to local councils or to the European Parliament.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I introduce this probing amendment, perhaps I may say that, because of a missed train, I was not present to hear the Minister's response in which I understand he took great exception to remarks made by my noble friend Lady Linklater accusing the Government of reneging on the matter of the size of the parliament. I therefore wish to read into the record two sentences from the constitutional convention:
The electoral system for Scotland's Parliament must have stability but it will, of course, be dependent on boundaries established for the Westminster and European Parliaments. These may be subject to alteration outwith the control of Scotland's Parliament and it will therefore be necessary to ensure that separate boundary reviews for the Parliament can be carried through with the purpose of maintaining the size of the Parliament and the integrity of the corrective effect of the additional members".
I believe that my noble friend was absolutely justified in using the word "reneging".
§ We are now dealing with the mechanics of the first election to the Scottish parliament. The purpose of Amendment No. 26 is to explore the Government's 1619 thinking on the date of the elections. The Government have decided that the elections to the Scottish parliament should be held on the first Thursday in May, coinciding with the local council elections. A month later there will be the elections to the European Parliament.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland has been reported as being troubled that the two ballot paper system may cause confusion among the electorate. It is our contention that, if he is worried about a two ballot paper system, he should be more worried about three ballot papers being thrust into the hands of the electorate on the same day. I say as an aside that, as we have seen from the German election system, it is not necessary to have two ballot papers. The constituency members and the additional members could be on one ballot paper, as they are in Germany.
§ To have two ballot papers for the Scottish parliamentary election and to have the parliamentary and council elections on the same day seems to me an unnecessary burden on the voters faced with the new election system. Moreover, the election returning officers have themselves been reported several times as representing to the Scottish Office that the Government ought to think again about having the two elections on the same day.
§ I believe that CoSLA have made representations concerning the late determination of ward boundaries for some of the councils. If my amendment were carried and the council elections were held in June, say, instead of in May, not only would that simplify the Scottish parliament election, it would give the local boundary commission another month in which to conclude the determination of the wards and make it known to the local authorities in good time.
§ A further argument for not having the parliamentary and council elections on the same day is that, since the decision was made, there has been the selection of candidates by all parties. I believe it is true to say that all parties contesting the election have among their candidates for the Scottish parliament a number of local government councillors. I do not think that there is a rule about it, but, in most cases, it is assumed that, where a councillor finds himself or herself elected to the parliament, he or she will resign the council seat and a local government by-election will follow. It seems to me, therefore, that there is an added argument for holding the council elections a month later than normal in order to allow those who have been successful in the Scottish parliament election to resign and make way for someone else to stand in the council elections without causing the inconvenience and expense of a local government by-election.
§ For all those reasons, I have pleasure in moving this amendment, which I think is eminently full of good sense.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, I support the demand made by my noble friend for different election dates. In doing so, I declare an interest in that I am considering becoming a candidate for a ward of the Clackmannanshire council, subject to the Boundary Commission deciding how to increase the seats on that 1620 council from 12 to 18 in a way which is acceptable to the people of Clackmannanshire. I must also declare an interest, which is probably well-known, that I am a Scottish parliamentary regional candidate for Mid-Scotland and Fife, albeit number five on the list, so I do not think the parliament need be too worried about my becoming a member. That draws out and personalises the argument about the confusion that I and the various electorates will have during the campaigning and subsequently in deciding how to vote.
I believe that it would be an advantage if the Scottish parliamentary elections and the local government elections were held on different dates.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and to speak also to the amendments in my name, which are in similar terms to those debated on the first day of the Committee stage.
Noble Lords will recall that on that occasion I referred to a letter which Councillor Keith Geddes, the President of CoSLA, had written to the Secretary of State on this point. He stressed that there were a number of reasons why, on a cross-party basis, the members of CoSLA were against the idea that the first elections to the Scottish parliament should be on the same day as the local government elections. He said, among other things, that the issue was one of substantial concern within the local government community.
He listed four topics. One was the likelihood of considerable voter confusion, about which I shall say more in a moment. The second was the concern that, because a local government poll was being held on the same day as one for a new national government, voters would vote on national issues on both polls and not on local issues in the local government poll.
Thirdly, he instanced the enormous pressures that would be placed on political parties in resourcing two simultaneous elections. Linked to that is the good point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, that in some instances an individual may be standing for a Scottish parliamentary constituency in one area and a local government constituency in another. If that person won both seats, presumably he or she would immediately resign the local government seat and a by-election would have to be held, which does not seem to be very sensible. The fourth point that CoSLA made was that combined elections might disadvantage independent candidates, who are given certain voting rights in the system that has evolved.
Notwithstanding the considerable experience in local government of Councillor Geddes, his views, conveyed on behalf of all members of CoSLA, do not appear to have cut any ice with the Secretary of State. They do not seem to have done Mr. Geddes much good either, because, when I last read about him in newspaper reports, he seemed, far from being a hot tip for a likely Labour win in the election, to be having difficulty in being selected.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned that the Secretary of State was troubled that confusion might be caused. That is undoubtedly correct. Since this matter 1621 was last debated that has taken on a significance that I do not believe was addressed at that time. We understand that the Secretary of State is concerned that the same electorate who read and understood the voting system in the White Paper and voted wholeheartedly to support it may now have difficulty in understanding it when they get to the ballot box at the beginning of May next year.
To some extent the Government are not entirely to blame for this matter. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will forgive me if I quote from an article in the Scotsman on 23rd September this year which referred to the approach by the Liberal Democrats to the question of where voters should place their second vote. It was reported:the Lib Dems yesterday revealed their plans to get Labour voters to give them their second vote in the parliamentary elections next May".According to the authors of the article it was the clearest signal yet that the Lib Dems were preparing for a coalition with Labour and it was a strategy apparently to be deployed not only in Scottish parliamentary elections but also in the European Parliament.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the information from my Conservative friends is that we are much more likely to get the Conservatives' first and second votes.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
My Lords, I take what the noble Lord says with a pinch of salt. I do not wish to embarrass him but I recall that when I moved these amendments last time he did not support them. He said that I had a point but it was not a very good one. Obviously, his noble friend and Deputy Leader, thinks along lines similar to mine. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not dwell too much on his views at this time.
The article quotes a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the chief executive—one Willie Rennie—who says:There is nothing to hide. People have used the first-past-the-post system's inadequacies to their advantage and we will do the same. This voting system isn't perfect, therefore we're going to work the system to the best advantage for the benefit of the voters".I suspect that he is misquoted on that point and that it is for the benefit of the Liberal Democrat Party. There follows a quote from the Leader, Mr. Ashdown:I am happy for us to follow any policy that will win us votes".Against that background it is hardly surprising that the Secretary of State is somewhat concerned about the possibility of confusion. As those of us in Scotland know, the answer to that confusion is to mount a £2 million campaign to educate the voters as to how the voting system will work. Having sought to explain the voting system to people in Scotland, both informally and at party meetings, it must be recognised that it is a complicated system. There can be little doubt that come next May, whatever campaign is mounted and whatever its cost, even if it is done with cross-party support as appears to be likely, a significant number of people will 1622 not fully understand when they turn up to vote why they have been given two voting papers and what they are meant to do with them.
If there is to be a third voting paper that day, as clearly there will be unless the Bill is amended, I believe that there is a substantial risk of confusion. That was the first of the items listed by Councillor Geddes in his letter to the Secretary of State. I understand that that was considered by the Government and they rejected the views of CoSLA. But in the light of the growing concern—here I join with the noble Lord, Lord Steel—I hope that the Government will be prepared to think again. This is not a matter of party political affiliation but of cross-party concern. I do not expect a positive response in the sense of a concession tonight. However, I expect a positive response in the form of a willingness on the part of Minister to go back and discuss the matter with the Secretary of State and other officials who are no doubt involved in planning the vote. If there is no change there is no doubt that there will be considerable confusion come 6th May.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, as in the case of other amendments discussed today, this is a matter that we have already considered at length in Committee. A good number of the points that have been made have been discussed backwards and forwards in Committee. I doubt that I can add a great deal to what was said then but I shall try to deal with the points that have been raised by noble Lords. The Government understand the genuineness of the concerns that have been raised.
The voters in Scotland face three elections next year: to the parliament, local councils and the European Parliament. Local elections are due in May and the European elections in June. Noble Lords opposite appear still to believe that electors could and should turn out separately three times in a row in very quick succession to vote in each of these elections. We do not believe that to combine them in the way suggested is the best method. We believe that it is better to combine them with the local elections. I believe that the House accepts that it is unreasonable to have three separate elections in quick succession. That is more than likely to exhaust the patience of voters and undoubtedly turn-out would suffer. Do we really want to go in that direction? I believe that none of us wants that.
We came to the very firm conclusion that we should hold the elections to the new parliament on the same date as that set for local council elections, 6th May. In case there is any misunderstanding—I was not clear that the position was understood from the way some questions were framed—it is now not possible to defer the local elections other than by primary legislation. Subordinate legislation to change the date would have had to be placed before Parliament before February this year because local elections are fixed by statute.
Noble Lords have said that some local representatives have argued against this. I am very familiar with the letter from Councillor Geddes. I shall not deal with the points raised in that letter that have been enumerated by 1623 the noble and learned Lord. But the letter went on to argue for the postponement of local government elections with a preference for a year's delay until May 2000. That would mean that the new mainland councils would have held office since the elections in May 1995 and that the three islands councils would have held office since the elections in May 1994. They would therefore have had a six-year term of office. CoSLA itself recognised that that would be very difficult to defend.
It has been argued by local government representatives and others that that will be very confusing for voters. All I can say is that the Government do not believe that voters will find it difficult to distinguish between the two polls on the day. We do not believe that that argument does justice to voters who would be much more resentful at having to make different trips to the polling station in just over a month. I believe that we should be more concerned about that.
A working party has been set up composed of experienced electoral administrators and representatives of the parties with whom we are considering the detailed arrangements for next May. All that can be said about those discussions at the moment is that the Government have not encountered any insuperable problems.
Noble Lords have raised the question of an individual who may want to stand for both a local council and the parliament. All I can say is that it is up to the individual. There is nothing in law to prevent an individual standing or taking seats in both. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, asked specifically about the review of local wards. The Boundary Commission has submitted almost all of its reports by now. The work to implement the review is continuing apace. We understand that the electoral administrators are preparing registers based on the new boundaries. We admit that the deadlines are tight but we believe that they are achievable. The final approval of the commission's reports must be completed by 31st December and we believe that we shall be able to achieve that.
The House should bear in mind that combined polls are not unusual in England. For example, the 1997 General Election coincided with local elections and, as we said in Committee, as far as we know that worked perfectly well. There is another reason why there would be benefit in having local government elections on the same day as elections to the Scottish parliament. We firmly believe that that would markedly increase the turnout for the local elections. The turnout at local government elections, as we all know, is not as high as it should be. That is something about which we all agree.
Scottish local government needs to embark on its new relationship with the new Scottish parliament with a well-founded mandate. Therefore, plans for next May ought to be on those terms and should not be regarded as an administrative inconvenience. We do not believe that the alternative of combining the European elections with the parliament's elections would be any simpler than what we are doing. The next European elections of course will take place under a new voting system and might indeed be the cause of more confusion than would 1624 be the case if they were held at the same time as local government elections, when people are familiar with the system of voting for local government. I would therefore invite the noble Lord involved to withdraw that amendment.
Speaking more specifically about Amendments Nos. 20, 126 and 127, we understand that they are aimed at avoiding the possibility that at some future point the elections for the Scottish parliament could fall on the same date as the elections for local councils purely as a result of the operation of the two cycles. The arguments are much the same. The points I made on the other amendments apply equally to these amendments. We do not think there is a good enough reason for voters having to spend so much time going to the polling stations. If it is not unfair to say so, we do not honestly believe that there is any good reason to be so ideologically opposed to combined polls. There are times when these will be the most sensible way forward. In any event the commission chaired by Neil McIntosh is currently looking at the relationship between local government and the parliament; part of its remit is to make recommendations about the future electoral arrangements for local government. This Bill is therefore not the place to lay down long-term rules based on the present arrangements for local government. I would therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw these amendments.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to reflect further on this suggestion. I fully accept that if changes involving local government elections had to be made, that would have to be done by primary legislation; that could be done in the body of this Bill by an amendment to that effect. The point upon which I invite the noble Baroness to reflect—and I am quite sure that she will agree to do so—is that, if my amendments are too prescriptive for the future (and I see the force of the argument she makes), there may be a contrary argument that Clause 2 as currently drafted is too prescriptive. There might then be some sense in writing some degree of flexibility into the Bill so that in the future, as experience is gained, the Scottish parliament would be competent to amend Clause 2 without having to bring the matter back here. I am not sure of the answer to this and I do not expect one at the moment. I simply ask for an undertaking to look at meeting our concerns half way. As far as the long term is concerned, it would be sensible to have a greater degree of flexibility than we have at the moment.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I would certainly like the Government to adopt the last suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. We do not want to get into an administrative straitjacket in this Bill if there is a chance, even as late as Third Reading, of looking again at the drafting of Clause 2.
I did not find any one of the noble Baroness's responses at all convincing. None of us is arguing that there should be three trips to the polling booth. In fact, if it were not for the criticisms of the European elections coming in June, we would not be moving this 1625 amendment at all. I do not think any one of us would be standing up and saying let us have two trips to the polls within a month. The fact is that we do have an election a month later and the question is whether it would be more sensible to have the local elections on that date rather than on the Scottish parliament date. For all the reasons already rehearsed I certainly think that the burden of the argument is in favour of doing that.
The noble Baroness referred to the fact that in the past local elections have been held in England and Wales on the same day as parliamentary elections. With great respect, those are two elections with which the electorate are already familiar. We are talking here about a new electoral system with which the electorate are not familiar. They have already been handed a double ballot paper and it seems to me unnecessary to go forward with a third one on the same day.
However, I take one bit of cheer from what the noble Baroness has said. Perhaps it can be confirmed that she was telling us that we need not worry about the ward boundaries question. I have come across a lot of nervousness among councils in the past few weeks about a risk that the Boundary Commission work would not be completed and that the local elections might therefore take place on the old boundaries. I hope that she is telling us tonight that there is no risk of that and that we can be certain that the work will be completed in time for the elections in May. I see her nodding so I will accept that that is so, in which case there is a little ray of light in the ministerial eye.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that if it had been thought sensible (as I think it should have been) to hold the local elections on the same day as the European elections, the effect could be to encourage the turn-out in both elections. The European election system in Scotland is a good deal simpler than is the Scottish parliament election. I would have thought that the argument was overwhelming in favour of having those two on the same day. If a decision had been made to do that, I accept of course that it would immediately involve a change to the primary legislation which could have been done in this Bill. Perhaps the moment has passed and the Government have decided this. I am certainly not going to press it.
I make one last point in response to something said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, about the use of the second vote in his great quotation from the Scotsman article. There is a serious point here which has nothing to do with which party we are talking about. It is my understanding that if Party A (whatever it is) in any region happens to win all the seats in the first-past-the-post system, there is no point in voting for Party A again in the regional list; it will have got its quota. That is why some of us will be arguing that the intelligent use of the second vote is something to be commended regardless of how it is done. Having said that, I certainly do not propose to press the amendment and I will allow the noble Baroness to continue.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
My Lords, I will try to mop up these last points. I am advised that the review of local wards is continuing and that we understand that the 1626 electoral administrators are preparing registers based on the new boundaries. The deadlines we know are tight, but the final approval of the commission's report must be completed by 31st December. We think that that can be achieved.
On the question which both noble Lords have put—and I hesitate to get into any legal discussion with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon—I am not at all sure that one could change the dates of local elections in Scotland in this Bill. I do not really want to cross legal swords with him on this. I am not sure that that is right. Perhaps we could both find out about it.
On the question of European elections, I will make the point briefly and not expand on it. The franchise for the local election and the Scottish parliament is absolutely identical. There is a slight difference with the European election. That is just one factor to take into account.
I return to the main point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. Clause 2(5) already gives the presiding officer flexibility in the date if there should turn out to be problems in the future. However, since the noble and learned Lord asks me to think about the point he has raised, I can do so without promising to return too constructively at Third Reading. I shall take the matter away and consider it.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I might invite her to discuss with her officials whether a Bill which has as a Long Title,An Act to provide for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and Administration and other changes in the government of Scotland",would not cover such amendment.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
My Lords, as always I am indebted to my fellow Watsonian, my fellow son of the manse, even if he has the misfortune to support a different party from myself. Where there is a will there is a way. I invite the noble Baroness, her colleagues and officials to consider the matter. While I accept that there is flexibility in Clause 2(5), I suggest that there may not be sufficient flexibility.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 27 to 31 not moved.]1627
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that Report stage begins again not before 8.50 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.