§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill does two things. First, it brings forward in time Section 86 of the Scotland Act, which reduces the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster to 58. Secondly, it uncouples the number of Members of the new Scottish Parliament from the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster.
As the Scotland Act stands, the Boundary Commission in the next Parliament will reduce the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster. It will do so by raising the electoral quota in Scottish seats from the current 54, 000 to the English level of 65, 000. That will reduce the number of Scottish MPs—I think—to 58. I say "I think" because the number rather depends on how 1081 it is calculated. It might be one less, it might be one more, but most commentators reckon that 58 will be the number.
That reduction acknowledges the existence of the Scottish Parliament; it acknowledges the reduction in the responsibility of Scottish MPs at Westminster; it also acknowledges the existence—although it does not provide the entire solution—to the famous West Lothian question. I believe it is true to say that every party, in both Houses, agrees both with the reduction and with the reasons for the reduction. That was clear during the passing of the Scotland Act.
Where many of us have a quarrel with the Government is on the timescale. In three-and-a-half months the new Parliament will take on all its responsibilities. It seems to me that there is no case for the reduction in Scottish Members not being made before the next election. Why do we have to wait for two elections before doing what everyone, including the Government, agrees should be done? I have no doubt that the Minister will tell me that the Boundary Commission cannot produce a report in time for changes to be made for the next election. I do not accept that for a moment. I do not believe that it would take the Boundary Commission more than the next two or three months to come forward with its proposals. They could be dealt with over the next year, in plenty of time to be put in place for the next election. Given modern technology, all the computer-based demographic information is available. It is no longer the day of the pen and pencil. There is no longer a need to send out an army of people to find out how many people live here and there. That day has long since gone. It is much easier now; there are demographic computer models and all kinds of things that can be used in order to do what is necessary. I have little doubt that a small team would take a short time to come forward with reasonable proposals. Then we could have the appeals, and the reduction could be made for the next election.
If this Parliament goes its full length, the Scottish Parliament will have been running for more than two years by the time of the next election and will be well into its stride. I can see no reason not to proceed with the issue.
The second problem is that when the reduction comes into effect, quite the silliest provision in the Scotland Act will be triggered. Frankly, "triggered" is an appropriate word because, as the Act stands, when the number of Scottish Members of Parliament is reduced by 14, so also will the number of first-past-the-post Members of the Scottish Parliament, plus another seven from the top-up list. That makes a total of 21 Members of the Scottish Parliament who will be invited to pull the trigger on themselves.
It is remarkable that when we go to the polls in 45 days' time, if I am counting correctly, we will elect 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. I presume that is what the Government think we need to be able to run a reasonable parliament. Yet in a few years' time we shall dispense with 21, having in the meantime built a parliament with offices for all 129. It seems a little illogical.
1082 This coupling of the number of MPs at Westminster and the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament is totally illogical. I understand the convenience for the first time, but I cannot believe that it makes sense in the long term. I can think of nothing more designed to create bad blood between Holyrood and Westminster than the Government's current proposals. In a few years' time they will say to the Scottish Parliament— and more importantly to 21 of the 129 Members— "Sorry, we can dispense with you; we don't need you. The only reason we don't need you is that we've reduced the number of Members of Parliament at Westminster".
This small Bill of mine is an appeal for common sense before the Parliament starts work. When it opens, the 129 Members will be looking at each other, scratching their heads and wondering how they can manoeuvre so that they will not be one of the 21, but one of the 108. Equally, they will manoeuvre some of their friends, as they will then be, into a position where they will be among the 21. I do not believe that will get our Parliament off to a good start, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of one-sixth of the Members.
We know from press reports last year that Scottish Office Ministers wanted to change the Bill but Tony Blair would not let them. The Scotsman summed it up with this headline:Blair snub for Dewar on seals at Holyrood".The Liberal Democrats thought they had a deal with the Labour Party, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will spell it out. They thought they had a deal that there would be an uncoupling. They were surprised when the uncoupling did not happen. If the Prime Minister wonders why he has a problem each time he visits Scotland I must tell him that, if this proposal is allowed to come about, whenever it appears that there will be a reduction in Members he will have a much more uncomfortable time, assuming we are still unfortunate enough to have him as Prime Minister when that day dawns.
Your Lordships' House passed amendments to the Scotland Bill along similar lines to the provisions of this Bill. The House of Commons—foolishly in my view— simply did what Downing Street told it to do and voted down the amendment. I was under pressure from the Liberal Democrat Benches to send it back to the House of Commons again, but at that stage it was so near the end of the Session that I thought it would be ill-advised of me to do that. Although the Liberal Democrats might have moved the amendment, my troops, or muscle, would have sent it back. I suspected that my party's opponents would have fastened on to it as a way of proving that the Scottish Conservative Party sought to frustrate the will of the Scottish public at the referendum. As nothing was further from the truth I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. If we had been a few weeks away from the end of the Session discretion might not have played such a big part and I would have been tempted to send the amendment back to the Commons a second time. But that did not happen and we are where we are. 1083 We can get this Bill through your Lordships' House since this House is kind to Private Members' Bills. The Government could easily give this Bill a fair wind and help it through the House of Commons so that the role and numbers of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster can be resolved in this Parliament instead of waiting for the next. Much more important, the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament can be uncoupled from the number at Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament can get on with its work with at least 129 Members of that Parliament without the thought that, based on an entirely Westminster-driven agenda, their numbers would be reduced to 108. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. — (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Lord Monro of Langholm
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mackay has spelt out very clearly the two main reasons for the Bill. There is little more to be said about the details. I give him my full support on two counts. First, as a Member of Parliament for many years I was always highly critical of the West Lothian situation. This Bill goes some way towards resolving that problem not only by reducing the number of Members of Parliament to a figure more consistent with the rest of England and Wales but also by substantially reducing expenditure on the salaries and expenses of Members of Parliament who do not need to be in Westminster, bearing in mind that there will be very much less work for Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster. It will also get rid as soon as possible of the ridiculous pocket boroughs and constituencies in the west of Scotland that are far too small compared with the present larger ones of 65, 000-plus.
My second reason for supporting my noble friend is the very difficult question that will arise almost immediately after the establishment of the parliament in Edinburgh; namely, those who will lose their seats in the subsequent Scottish general election. It will not be fair or friendly. It is most inappropriate that Members of the new Scottish Parliament should be put in that position. That is entirely a Westminster decision which will make Scottish Members of Parliament even more furious. I am concerned that the Government have taken such a negative attitude towards this matter. I remember the devious way in which the government in 1977 or 1978 brought forward the recommendation of the Boundary Commission, as they were bound to do, and then voted it down by their parliamentary majority. That was no way to treat the Boundary Commission. It shows that the present Government are rather light-handed when it comes to dealing with parliamentary matters that may affect their majority in the future.
I believe, as my noble friend Lord Mackay indicated, that if the Boundary Commission had been told a few months ago, or was asked even now, to produce new constituencies in 12 months' time it could be done. If the Government expect a Royal Commission to provide for a new House of Lords and its procedures in about eight months' time, I believe that the Boundary Commission could well produce new constituencies in Scotland in 12 months or less. I do not think that lack 1084 of time is any excuse. If there is a will to do it, it will be done. The Government do not want it to be done because they will lose many Members of Parliament at the next election if new boundaries are brought in. That is the real reason. The Government should be honest and admit it, and not blame the boundary commissioners for not having the time to do the work.
The Bill brought forward by my noble friend is a way out for the Government and provides for a constructive democracy in Scotland in the future.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Lord Rowallan
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It is our last chance to right a terrible wrong. As has been pointed out, the Scotland Bill was allowed through because of the rush at the end of the Session. We wanted to make certain that it went through. My party is determined—as am I— to make certain that the Scottish Parliament will work. It could not do so unless the Scotland Bill had been sent in full strength from this House.
Because of the West Lothian question, while the number of Members of Parliament to the Scottish Parliament and to the Westminster Parliament are linked together, there is the real possibility that we shall see a serious reduction in both parliaments. We have a new Parliament with 129 Members. They are campaigning like fury as we speak and will shortly be deciding issues of great importance. Almost every day in your Lordships' House we hear of another subject matter with which the Scottish Parliament will have to deal.
It is not fair or right that 20 or so of those Members of Parliament will disappear shortly. It is not fair or right that the Scottish voting community will lose MPs for whom they have just voted to represent them. Thanks to my noble friend, we have a chance to stop that travesty. We must grasp the opportunity with both hands.
As I am sure the Minister will remember, I moved an amendment at either Committee or Report stage providing that the Boundary Commission should report. I was informed that that was totally impossible in the time allowed. I agree with both noble friends who have spoken that that is a load of codswallop. The poll tax has now gone. We now have individuals on the electoral register who have not been on it previously. Individuals who were on the register at an earlier stage of their lives are again on it. With the aid of computers, and so on, there is no reason why the matter cannot be dealt with more speedily.
I know that the Minister will state—he has already told me—that it takes a long time to get this matter sorted out; and that it cannot be done just like that. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Munro that if there were a will, a way would be found.
The last and most important point—I have referred to it previously in the Scotland Bill—is that we must be very wary of taking away from the Scottish people something we have given them. That is the worst mistake Westminster could make. It will not be at the behest of the Scottish people, but at the behest of Westminster.
1085 I wish the Bill well and trust that the Government will consider it seriously. The Bill contains much sense; and sense must be seen to prevail.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, I too rise to give full support to the Second Reading of the Bill in both its parts, although I am conscious that the longer I speak, the longer I delay a very important debate to come later introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, of Aikwood, so I shall be very brief.
On the first part, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is quite correct—in my view at any rate—to say that there is no reason why the Boundary Commission could not have achieved the reduction to 57, or whatever the number may be, in time for the next general election. In fact, it could have already been working on it for three months now if this argument had been accepted during the passage of the Scotland Bill. We should not find ourselves in this position.
The truth is that the Labour Party came quite late to the acceptance that there should be a reduction in numbers—just before the election. But it is a pity that that has not been thought through. As we reach the next general election, there will be astonishment in Scotland. People have not followed the detailed debates on the Scotland Bill as we have had to do. At the next general election, the Scottish people will be astonished that they are still voting for the same number of MPs in Scotland when they thought there would be a reduction. The Government will find it very difficult to explain away that. Therefore, I stand full square behind the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on that point.
The noble Lord has come late to the argument of delinking the number in the Scottish Parliament from the numbers at Westminster. Johnny is doing well but Johnny has come lately. That issue has been debated thoroughly. He said that we had a deal with the Labour Party. We did not have anything so squalid as a deal. But that issue was discussed fully in the Constitutional Convention. This was long before the White Paper or the general election. The Constitutional Convention's report stated:The electoral system for Scotland's Parliament must have stability but it will 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".So that is not a new issue. It was debated two or three years ago and the Constitutional Convention reached a clear conclusion. I am sorry to say that by rejecting that, the Government depart from the agreement which they made when in opposition to which I do not react well.
The second occasion when this was fully debated was in the other place when my honourable friend, the Member for Orkney and Shetland, tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill. Mr Henry McLeish, the Minister who was replying on behalf of the Government, said: 1086Currently, the Government cannot accept Amendments Nos. 61 to 65 which would seek to break the link between constituencies for the UK Parliament and constituencies for the Scottish Parliament".He then went on to say that,there are clearly good arguments on both sides of the issue … We are still considering the matter, and we hope to reach a conclusion by the time that the Bill goes to another place".He concluded his speech by saying:If we establish a Parliament of 129 Members, there is an expectation that they might want to continue. That is why addressing the realpolitik of the Parliament is part of the wider consideration. With those few remarks, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland will withdraw his amendment, and allow us to complete that consideration". —[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/98; cols. 223/4.]We all know the procedures of Parliament. When a Minister winds up a debate by asking for an amendment to be withdrawn because it is going to be considered in another place, there is a reasonable expectation that the force of the argument has been met and the Government will do something about it.
That did not happen and once again, I am sorry to say, we did not receive any support from the Conservative Party. Indeed, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will have a word with his honourable friend, the Member for South Holland and the Deepings, who said in that debate that the notion of different-sized constituencies for elections to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament is nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and I would dissent from that.
The Bill came here and we debated the issue again in this House on 17th November last. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has tried to explain that he did not put his troops into the Lobby then in support of our amendment because he wanted to ensure that the Bill was passed. There was no way that the Government would lose the Scotland Bill at that late stage. Had he put his troops into the Lobby, we would have carried the amendment. We could have had a reconsideration of this matter, with the words that I have just quoted to this House repeated in the other place, and there might just have been a chance of it succeeding.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is correct in suggesting that pressure from Downing Street prevented that happening. I have no knowledge of what goes on inside government. However, I am told that the Prime Minister is extremely thin-skinned about criticisms from Scottish politicians or the Scottish press, and that he is always complaining about it. He has only himself to blame when we get into a mess like this. I hope, even at this late hour, that this Bill might be given a fair wind and we might see an improvement to what is at present a nonsense in the Scotland Act.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)
My Lords, as I rise to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, my mind and indeed my body go back to those days of almost high summer when we debated these issues. I believe that we discussed this issue initially in terms of the Referendums Bill (Scotland and Wales) and subsequently in the White Paper debate, at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on our consideration of the view that the Commons took of our 1087 amendments. Therefore it is not a matter that we come to anew or in any way strange to the main issues of the debate.
We have spent a considerable amount of time on this issue, and rightly so. I recognise that it is important but it has already had a thorough debate, not just in this House, but by the totality of Parliament. I do not wish, for a moment, to cast any doubt on the propriety of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in bringing forward the Bill at this stage. However, I must point out that we are faced with what is the settled will of Parliament. Parliament has had many opportunities to consider the points raised in the Bill. It has decided them decisively and, I believe, conclusively. There is no new argument, no new evidence, that the noble Lord has brought to support his case that he has not, in essence, used previously. We are revisiting old arguments that have been re-presented in terms of a Second Reading debate.
Perhaps I may deal with a number of issues. The Bill is clearly about the size of the parliament. Quite simply, the noble Lord's overall aim and the principle behind the Bill is, as he freely acknowledges, to break the link between Westminster and Scottish parliamentary constituencies and so fix the size of the Scottish Parliament at 127 members at least. The Government cannot, and do not, support such an aim.
I shall not labour the Government's opposition to this idea. As Your Lordships know, we are committed to maintaining the linkage between the constituencies in the two parliaments. That has been an explicit and long-standing commitment. If noble Lords go back to the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament, they will see that we considered that the integrity of the United Kingdom would be strengthened by common UK and Scottish parliamentary boundaries. We also said that any changes in Westminster constituencies would result in changes to Scottish parliamentary constituencies and might also lead to consequential adjustments to the size of the Scottish Parliament.
The provisions that we have made in the Scotland Act give effect to the provisions outlined in the White Paper. I recognise that that was a departure from the view taken by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, but it was in the White Paper, which was endorsed not only by the Scottish people, but also after a campaign in which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his friends felt able to campaign in favour of a yes, yes vote. So, this has been subject to debate and discussion both by the electorate of Scotland and here in both Houses of Parliament.
Given what has gone before, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that we have not changed our minds over the past four months since the Scotland Act became law because essentially nothing new has occurred; there has been no new evidence and no new arguments. We remain committed to the arrangements that we laid out then. We believe that there are considerable benefits for constituents. We spelt them out previously. Common boundaries will make for representation which is easier to access and will help to ensure that MPs and MSPs are well placed to co-ordinate their constituency work. That should make sure that local interests are properly represented in both places.
1088 As we said in the White Paper and as I have said many times previously, we believe that these arrangements will help to maintain the integrity of the Union. We have embedded the electoral framework of the Scottish Parliament into the electoral framework of the UK Parliament. We want the constituency building blocks to be the same.
After all, that is how we arrived at the current figure of 129 MSPs. It was not a calculation made on the basis of, "How many MSPs do you need to make the Parliament work?" That was not the primary, driving consideration. If it had been, I do not think that the magic number of 129 would have been arrived at— because there is no such magic number of 129; the figure of 129 is derived from the building block of the number of Westminster Scottish constituencies and adding to that the number of regional Members. Indeed, throughout the deliberations of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and elsewhere, good and reasonable schemes produced parliaments ranging from 110 to about 140 or 145 Members, if my memory serves me correctly, and all were developed on a different basis. I do not claim that 129 is the precise number needed. As I have said, that number is the result of using the number of Westminster Scottish constituencies as the building block for the whole scheme.
I am quite interested by the idea adduced by the noble Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Steel, that somehow it will be absolutely dreadful for those MSPs in their first or, indeed, second Session, who are looking over their shoulders, fearing that they will be booted out. That is what elections are all about. Given the likely representation of the party opposite and that of the party diagonally opposite, I should have thought that those noble Lords would welcome the idea of change and of turnover in the composition of the Scottish Parliament. The fact that there will be people in one parliament who will not be in the second or third parliament does not seem to be a sound reason for opposing any form of electoral change.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I believe that he is puzzling us all with his argument. None of us argues with the fact that at elections some people lose. They may not like it but it is the simple fact of the matter. I would not quarrel with what boundary commissions occasionally have to do. But what we have here is 28 people who are not going to lose because of the electorate or even because the Boundary Commission has changed something directly concerned with the Scottish Parliament. They will lose because of the tie-up with another parliament. That is the point and it has nothing to do with the electorate.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, before the noble Lord stands up, can he say what the Government will do when the new parliament has been built and there are, as the noble Lord said, 129 officers, with a committee structure which is running; and it is found that 129 is a reasonable number, as everyone has anticipated, and parliament itself decides that it does not 1089 want to lose 28 members and petitions this place to retain the parliament in its present state? What are the Government going to do then?
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I shall deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, directly. I have already dealt with it on a number of occasions. I have made the point that, notwithstanding the argument and merit of the linkage between the Westminster constituencies and the Scottish parliamentary constituencies, if, in the light of actual experience—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will recognise my words—the Scottish Parliament has a committee structure and a system of operating which requires a larger number of officers than would be allowed as a result of the changes following the reduction in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster, it would clearly be open to the Scottish Parliament to make representations.
I have enough confidence in and recognition of the good faith of any government of the day to indulge in serious and constructive discussion with the Scottish Parliament on that basis, because it is in the interests of both parliaments to ensure that a Scottish Parliament works and is effective. We are not at that stage yet. The government of the day could only reach that judgment in the light of the experience of the parliament and could then properly weigh the merits of maintaining a common constituency system for both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament against an argument about the optimum size of the Scottish Parliament which had been established on the basis of experience.
On that basis I am sure that one could have a constructive discussion between the two parliaments and the two executives. At this stage I cannot make any commitment about the outcome, but it is something which is clearly sensible and can be considered.
It seems to me that we come to two issues. First is the size of the parliament which requires breaking the linkage. Our argument has always been that there is a good and strong case to be made for maintaining the linkage between the Westminster constituencies and the Scottish parliamentary constituencies. That reinforces a sense of identity. It helps to maintain the shared institutions of the Union, which is what we are concerned with in this House.
Secondly, I deal with the timetable for the review. The next Boundary Commission will take place between December 2002 and December 2006. Despite what noble Lords say, reviews take time. Any of those involved in any way in Boundary Commission reviews know the interest that they quite rightly generate locally, not just among political parties but among ordinary citizens. It is not just a matter of using a democratic model, plugging in statistics, punching the right buttons and coming out with lines on a map giving equal size constituencies throughout Scotland without having proper regard to the views and interests of local communities, particularly as this boundary review could well result in a significant reduction in the number of Scottish constituencies. This must be handled with a 1090 degree of care and sensitivity which will rightly take time. It is not appropriate therefore to disturb the timetable that is already set in place.
We have been here before. We have heard both sets of arguments before. In a longer debate I would have drawn attention to other minor points in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as not being acceptable. But we concentrated on the two broad issues; the size of the Parliament, setting it in stone forever more, and the timing of the review. I have made it clear that the Government are not disposed to accept this Bill as the right to way to deal with the concerns expressed by the noble Lord in his usual eloquent but familiar terms; but following the conventions of this House we will not oppose a Second Reading.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I share a sense of disappointment with my two noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I had rather hoped that, with the end in sight for the ministerial job of Under-Secretary of State for the Scottish Office in the House of Lords, the noble Lord might have shown himself to be freer of the ties that bind him to Downing Street and would have been prepared to see the problem we put forward.
As my noble friend Lord Monro said, it is hard to believe that it can take longer to create 58 new Westminster constituencies in Scotland—or rather, to keep 72, because that is what we are talking about— than it will take to come up with Royal Commission proposals to reform your Lordships' House. I cannot think why one is expected to last eight months, yet the other for two or three years. My noble friend Lord Rowallan said that it was a huge error for Westminster to appear on the one hand to be giving something to Scotland, but in a year or two's time to be seen to take it away, at least in part. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, made clear points, going over the previous position in which the Government had clearly signed up to the proposals in the constitutional convention. My party was not a part of that, but recognised that they signed up to them. Then, all of a sudden, when we come to look at the legislation the Government back away from them.
The Minister said that I had adduced no new evidence and no new argument; but once again he has failed to persuade me, or anybody in Scotland listening to this debate, of the Government's case. One of the reasons for coming up with a tightly drawn Bill is to get away from the other issues in the Scotland Act and just try to concentrate on this one matter. The idea that if we break this link, we will be breaking a bigger link between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament is a nonsense. If I thought for a minute that breaking the link between the number of MSPs and the number of MPs at Westminster would endanger the Union, I would not be bringing forward my Bill.
If I may speak on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I thought that the worst argument the Minister adduced was that because the noble Lord campaigned for a yes, yes vote he must have been happy with the White Paper—as though the noble Lord would have campaigned for a no vote on the basis that he did not 1091 like a small part of it. That really was disingenuous. Mind you, I should not be surprised because currently the Labour Party, having campaigned to give the Scottish Parliament the power to charge another 3p in the pound on Scottish taxpayers, is not campaigning vigorously against the idea that it should ever be implemented because of the damage even 1p more tax would do to the Scottish Parliament. If the Government throw stones at people for the way they campaigned in the referendum, they ought to be careful lest serious bricks be thrown at them.
I do believe that we ought to break the link, which could easily be one of the catalysts that might damage the Union. Let us assume for a moment that the Scottish Parliament does as the noble Lord, Steel of Aikwood, said. Anybody who lives in the real world knows that it will. When it comes to the day when the Boundary Commission is set up, and this seems to be coming over the horizon, the Scottish Parliament will pass a Motion, which it will send here, saying, "We want 129 constituencies". It will do that after lots of campaigning, when the Scottish National Party will make hay in a big way. So will the other Opposition parties, if Labour is still in government. The Government have stored up real trouble for themselves. This little issue will be magnified by the Scottish National Party and the Scottish press. The people who think that they are the short list of 21 will, regardless of where they sit in the Scottish Parliament, stir up as much trouble as they can.
That issue will be brought here, and we would do better dealing with it now—rather than let a head of steam build up and have the Westminster Parliament forced to back down.
I do not believe in common boundaries. The Government have proposed a method for the election of European Members of Parliament when in Scottish terms—and the same is true all over the UK—eight MEPs will be in the one constituency, without any boundaries. They are not so sacrosanct as the Minister seems to make out. We will all be puzzling which of the eight represents us. If we have a bit of a problem, we will write to all eight. That situation is much worse than a bit of double representation. It is not even double. I will know that my MSP and Westminster MP are A and B. A neighbour may share A but not B, because he will have a different MP at the Westminster Parliament. I do not think that will be a problem. The Scottish electorate are quite well educated enough to work that one out.
I am disappointed. The Government's failure to act on those two issues will lead to problems in two different places. The Minister did not address why, if it is right to go to 58 constituencies the election after next, is it not right to go to 58 at this election. He did not lock horns in that argument. I am not surprised because he has no possible justification for the Government's action. The result is that once the Scottish Parliament is up and running, the number of MSPs will begin to become an issue in England. In two or three years, when we come near to the reduction in the next Parliament and therefore in the number of MSPs, that will become an issue and a problem in Scotland. On those two issues, 1092 there will be problems in England to begin with, then problems in Scotland. The Government are being very "head in the sand", in not seeing that my little Bill is one way of resolving those two problems. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.