HL Deb 01 February 2005 vol 669 cc177-91

7.43 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14 December 2004 be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland received the fifth periodical report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland on 30 November last year. He laid the report and a draft order before Parliament on 14 December. By doing so, he was fulfilling his obligation under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which required him, as soon as may be", after he had received the Boundary Commission's report to lay it before Parliament, together with a draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, with or without modifications, to the report's recommendations.

As I have indicated, the report was laid two weeks after its receipt. I recall during the debates last year on the then Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill that some noble Lords were of the view that the Government were dragging our feet with regard to the Boundary Commission reporting on the new Scottish constituencies, and that it was our intention to delay the reduction of the number of Scottish representatives at Westminster until after the next election. We made it very clear during those debates that that was not the case. The Boundary Commission is entirely independent of government. It was a matter for it alone to decide when, within the legislative framework, it would report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I trust that the very short time taken to lay the commission's report and the draft order implementing its recommendations proves the Government's integrity and the truth of our previous statements on the matter.

Before turning to the details of the order, I thank the Boundary Commission for Scotland—that is, the deputy chairman, the right honourable Lady Cosgrove, and her fellow commissioners, Professor Gavin McCrone and Dr Elspeth Graham, together with their expert advisers and secretariat—for its work in delivering its fifth periodic report. As noble Lords will be aware, it was a much more extensive and radical review than previous ones, and its recommendations are of very significant consequence.

The draft order gives effect—I stress that it does so without modifications—to the recommendations made by the Boundary Commission in its report. As noble Lords will be aware, implementing the recommendations will reduce the number of Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies from 72 to 59. The boundary changes affect only constituencies for elections to the Westminster Parliament.

The Explanatory Note attached to the draft order explains its effect. Article 2 of, and the schedule to, the order set out and describe the 59 new constituencies into which Scotland will be divided.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the Explanatory Note says that the schedule sets out a description of the constituencies. Could he use his good influence to see that the schedule is reprinted in a more comprehensible manner? I shall give one example. For Rutherglen and Hamilton West Burgh constituency, the description is: The area of the South Lanarkshire Council other than those parts in the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale County Constituency, the East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow County Constituency and the Lanark and Hamillton East County Constituency". I do not call that much of a description that anyone could be expected to understand. It is entirely negative.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention, which I shall deal with when I reply to the debate.

The order will come into force the day after it is made. However, that will not affect any parliamentary election until a proclamation is issued by Her Majesty summoning a new Parliament, or affect the make-up of the House of Commons until the dissolution of the present Parliament. If your Lordships approve the draft order, it will swiftly be submitted to Her Majesty in Council for final scrutiny. If the Privy Council should also give its approval, the intention is that the order will come into effect before the middle of February.

It may be helpful if I remind noble Lords of the background to the order. The Government accepted at the outset of consideration of devolution that the introduction of devolved government for Scotland would remove the need for special consideration for Scottish representation in the United Kingdom Parliament. That was an integral part of the devolution settlement. Therefore, under the Scotland Act 1998, the Boundary Commission for Scotland was required in its next review of parliamentary constituency boundaries to use the same electoral quota as for constituencies in England. The previous quota for Scotland was around 55,000 electors per constituency. In the recent review, that rose to just under 70,000, as in England. The Boundary Commission started its fifth periodical review in June 2001 and completed its work on the Westminster boundaries in December 2003.

The Scotland Act provided that once the commission had reviewed these parliamentary constituencies, it then had to look at the regional boundaries for the Scottish Parliament, since these were built from the Westminster constituencies. As required by the Scotland Act, a reduction in the number of MPs would have led to a consequential reduction in both constituency and regional list members of the Scottish Parliament. However, following the consultation that showed overwhelming support for retaining 129 MSPs, as noble Lords will recall, the Government introduced legislation to retain the existing size of the Scottish Parliament. That legislation, the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act, received Royal Assent in July last year.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I apologise for interrupting him but, given that he said that the consultation had "overwhelming" support for retaining the numbers of MSPs at 129, can he remind me how many people expressed that view?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I do not remember in detail the number of people who expressed that view, but I do remember that we had a long and detailed debate on this matter last year, when the number who responded from all those who were consulted was revealed to the House and is in Hansard. I hope that by the time I respond to the debate, I shall have some firmer information than I am able to give at the moment.

The passage of the Scottish Parliament Constituencies Act meant that the Boundary Commission was no longer required to review the regional boundaries for the Scottish Parliament. It was then in a position to work towards completing its report. As I have indicated, that was presented to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the end of November last year. However, it is important to point out that since the proposals for the new Scottish constituencies for Westminster have been in the public domain for over a year since December 2003, the political parties and electoral administrators have had some considerable time to plan the changes that will need to be in place for the next general election.

The Boundary Commission announced at the outset of its review that it would use existing local government electoral wards as the basic building blocks for the construction of constituencies. Although the legislation did not require this, the Boundary Commission believed that it would not be appropriate to ignore the structure of those electoral arrangements. The commission concluded, after consideration of all the critical factors in constituency geography, that the number of Scottish constituencies should be reduced from 72 to 59. There followed an extensive public consultation and the statutory inquiry process on the proposed parliamentary constituencies. The political parties in Scotland represented at both the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments were kept fully informed by the commission of its proposals.

Once he had received the commission's report, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State reflected carefully on whether to exercise his power under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 to modify any of the recommendations. He concluded that the report should be implemented in full without modification. He reached that conclusion on the following basis: the Boundary Commission is fully independent; it weighed up all the representations received with considerable thoroughness and systematic analysis; it conducted statutory inquiries, as was required, where significant representations were made against its original proposals; and it revised many of its initial recommendations, either as a result of the statutory inquiries or on the basis of the representations submitted. Evidence of those four points will be found in the fifth periodical report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland.

Inevitably, as was made clear by the range of representations submitted to the commission and its inquiries, not everyone agreed with all the Commission's conclusions. Other valid structures are possible. That is in the nature of an exercise such as this. However, we are firmly of the view that the Boundary Commission has exercised judgment and proper discretion and that it carried out its duties transparently and conscientiously, with full public consultation, as required by law. In particular, we endorse the commission's view that, having regard to the significant changes to the constituency geography, as a consequence of the reduction in the number of constituencies, its conclusions are fair and consistent across Scotland.

I shall not attempt to go through the detail of the report or the order and I hope that noble Lords will not do so either. But in the light of the points mentioned above, I trust that noble Lords will accept that it would not have been appropriate for the Government to adjust any of the commission's recommendations.

As noble Lords will be aware, the passing of the order will mean that in future there will be different boundaries—in some cases very different—between Westminster and Holyrood constituencies. During the passage of the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill last year, a number of your Lordships raised concerns about the consequences of that development. It may, therefore, be helpful if 1 remind your Lordships of the work of the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State set up in July last year, under the chairmanship of Professor Sir John Arbuthnott.

That commission is currently examining the issue of boundary differences and the consequences of having in the near future four different voting systems for elections in Scotland—for the European Parliament, Westminster, Holyrood and local government. Issues on which the Arbuthnott commission has been asked to make recommendations include the pattern of electoral boundaries in Scotland, arrangements between elected representatives to provide the best service to their constituents and the method of voting in elections to the Scottish Parliament.

The commission started work in September 2004 and aims to report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by the end of this year. I hope noble Lords are aware that it launched a public consultation document on 18 January, which set out a series of important questions on the matters within its remit. Copies of that document are available in the Library and I understand have also been sent separately to each Scottish Peer in this House. I am sure that we will have an opportunity for a detailed debate on the Arbuthnott commission's report after it is published.

In conclusion, I assure noble Lords that we are satisfied that the Boundary Commission has followed all due procedures in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations. In those circumstances, I do not believe that it is for us to take issue with the independent assessment of how the new parliamentary constituencies for Scotland are made up. We need now to complete the parliamentary and other processes to implement the Boundary Commission's report. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 14 December be approved [4th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

8 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, first, I offer my thanks to the Minister for bringing this order before your Lordships' House in reasonably quick time. I also add my thanks to the members of the Boundary Commission for producing such a comprehensive, if at certain points controversial, rethink of the Scottish constituencies.

We are finally dealing with the much foreseen reduction in the number of the Scottish Westminster parliamentary seats, which was such a feature of the debates when we discussed the Scotland Bill all those years ago. By the order that the Minister referred to a few minutes ago, we are fortunately—or unfortunately—relieved of the worries concerning the seats of the Scottish Parliament. I do not envy Ministers when, every time we deal with this subject, they have to repeat how, at the time of the Scotland Act 1998 on the Scottish Parliament, they made it clear that their intention was to keep the composition of the Parliament under review, as the Government Minister did in another place on 24 January this year.

Noble Lords who were here at the time of the Scotland Bill will no doubt remember how we spent what is counted as 18 days—and, if my memory serves me correctly, that also included nights—considering that legislation. So far as I can tell, there was some slight wavering in the Government's determination by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, on Report, but it was only on the final day, when we entered ping-pong in the consideration of Commons amendments on 17 November 1998, that the Minister, having spent two columns of Hansard arguing that Scottish parliamentary constituencies should always be the same as those for Westminster, suddenly remembered at col. 1195 to put in the critical phrase: The opportunity would not be lost, at some time in the future—on the basis of practice—to reopen this question".—[Official Report, 17/11/98; col. 1195.] If that counts as making it clear, I shall be watching the small print rather more carefully in future.

When this order was introduced in the other place, the Minister expressed the hope that it would come into effect by the middle of February, and I am most grateful to the Minister for telling us that that is still the case. In addition to the outline that he gave us, I should be interested to know what stage has been reached with the returning officers, who are having to implement the new structure, and how much more time they will require to comply with the boundary changes. After that, it would be of great interest to know the earliest possible date that these boundaries could be used for an election.

The fun is, of course, only just beginning, and the Minister touched on that. It really will not be all that long until we find ourselves at the year 2007 and the next election for the Scottish Parliament, when we shall be back contesting on the old boundaries with the 72 constituencies.

It seems slightly ironic that a Government who appear to be so sensitive on the question of voter turnout at elections and have had Bills before this House to try to increase participation should face the voters with such a mass of alternatives. I wonder whether they have made any assessment of the effect that that, in itself, is likely to have on the turnout.

As the Minister pointed out, the Government are aware of the potential chaos that all these arrangements have thrown up, and they have appointed Professor Arbuthnott to chair the inquiry that the Minister outlined. How does one deal with an electorate with four different voting systems and three different approaches to what constitutes a democratic constituency?

I was grateful to receive, when I came to the House last night, a copy of the consultation document that Professor Arbuthnott and his committee have been circulating. At paragraph 1.6, it points out that in 2007 there will also be the usual local government election and that that will be conducted on the single transferable vote system. The great value of that, he maintains, will be to preserve the direct link between the voter and his or her ward representatives—something that he believes should be sustained at each level of government.

Is the Minister aware that when Professor Arbuthnott was being interviewed on "Good Morning Scotland" on 18 January, he was questioned on this subject and his remarks were interpreted to imply that his committee was inclined to favour the single transferable vote for all Scottish elections? Can the Minister inform the House whether that is a position that the Government have put to his committee or whether, in this aspect, all the options are being kept open? Can the Minister also tell us whether the Government themselves will be submitting views to the committee?

The greatest curiosity that this whole exercise throws up is the impression given that, in this Government's view, Westminster MPs are dispensable but MSPs are not. In the final analysis, my party welcomes the order and sees it as a logical part of the devolution process.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, I, too, am ready, willing and, indeed, enthusiastic about extending to the Minister gratitude for the way that he introduced the order. I am also grateful to the Boundary Commission for the work that it has done. It is right to recognise in this debate just how significant a change this is in the Scottish political geographical landscape.

Concerns have been expressed all along about the impact of devolution on the structure and representation of Scotland in the Westminster Parliament. However, the settlement, adumbrated in the debates on the Scotland Bill, was clearly a package, and it is right that the Government have fulfilled the foreseen steps to reflect the appropriate decisions to reduce the number of Members in Westminster to take account of the new responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and its Members. Indeed, it was the right time to change the pattern so that the electoral quotas in England would be broadly the same as those north of the Border.

It is important that there has been a slight variation, to which I do not think either the Minister or the noble Duke referred, from the strict translation of the English quota to Scotland. The Boundary Commission recommended that the number should be increased from 57, which would have been the strict application of the quota, to 59, reflecting, as it is entitled to do under Rule 4 of the rules for the redistribution of seats, the considerable sparsity of population in the north Highlands, in particular, and the inaccessibility of the Northern Isles and Western Isles. This results in not an equalisation of the electors in all the Scottish constituencies, but a compromise arrangement which is entirely defensible and reflects the geographical realities. We have a spread of electorates from as high as 78,675 in Linlithgow and Falkirk East to around 22,000 in Na h-Eileanan an Iar. This carries forward the disparities which have long existed, but, as I have said, it is defensible.

The work that has been done by the Boundary Commission on this occasion has been exemplary. It is important that the public have an awareness of the lengths to which it has gone to ensure transparency and to ensure that the views of objectors were properly considered. It is of course provided by law that these things be done, but when such massive changes are being made, there would have been opportunity for considerable disgruntlement and even suspicion of misfeasance. That has been largely obviated by the manner in which the commission has done its work. It held 23 meetings on reviews and 20 local inquiries, with a large number of objections by many different parties in different areas being reflected in the final recommendations of the Boundary Commission. It has given this method of reaching conclusions a very good name, and of course it was entirely right that the Government should seek not to exercise their power to modify the recommendations but simply to reflect them in the order before us.

A further anxiety on the part of the public has been the prospect that the process might be so protracted that it would not be possible to implement the changes appropriate to take account of the devolution package in time for the general election. I suppose that it has to be said that that anxiety cannot be entirely removed unless and until the Prime Minister announces a date for the general election beyond the implementation of the order. It now seems that that is highly probable and that the order will take effect in the next couple of weeks.

I also would be interested to know about the steps that have been taken by returning officers to prepare the ground for the changes. They certainly have had notice of what is going to happen for long enough to take suitable measures and to make preparations. Certainly, the political parties have been noticing what has happened, and I believe that in most places candidates have been selected on the basis of the new constituency boundaries. It looks as though all this will be given effect without let or hindrance and, most importantly, without great public disturbance or anxiety. That is something of a triumph for a delicate operation of this kind, for which all those who have been involved deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House, but I congratulate the Government on the order. I have a certain empathy with the Secretary of State for Scotland. When I was the Secretary of State, I too had to bring forward a Boundary Commission order that made it pretty well impossible for me to win my constituency. I suspect that the present Secretary of State may be in the same position. It is a real testament to public duty in our country that Secretaries of State can do that with a smile on their face and in time for the next general election. I am tempted, however, to say to the Minister that, while I accept that there should be reduction in the number of Members of Parliament coming to Westminster from Scotland in line with the Scotland Act, I worry about the position of Members of Parliament who find their constituencies overwhelmed by MSPs. The failure of the Government to complete the second part of the bargain and reduce the number of MSPs is of considerable concern.

When you were elected in the past—it was certainly the case when I was a Scottish Member of Parliament—you did not care whether people had voted for you or not. After the election, you were there to represent their interests and put their case to Ministers, sometimes perhaps with a certain reticence, but none the less, that was the duty. There are now several MSPs—some on lists, some elected and some not representing what will be the geographical area and therefore that identity which comes from Members of Parliament. All will receive generous secretarial and constituency allowances, using them to compete, sometimes on a party basis, for the favour of the electorate. Whereas in the past when Mrs Bloggins went to see her MP she would have been treated in a non-political manner, we now have Members of the Scottish Parliament competing with each other saying that the Liberal, or the SNP, or the Tory will do better for her. That is wasteful of public funds and undermines the position of the Member of Parliament.

8.15 p.m.

I am also very concerned about those Westminster MPs who will now have larger constituencies. It seems that the way in which the Scottish Parliament is operating is putting a greater burden on those Members of Parliament. I hesitate to use the phrase in front of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, but it seems that Sewel Motions are now being used for matters that are of serious concern in Scotland. I do not wish to go on at length, but I shall give one example about which I am sure that noble Lords have had letters from the Scottish Police Federation. There is a proposal to bring the chief constables in Scotland under political control for the first time. There is a proposal to set up a new agency that will have powers for people who are not members of the Scottish police force to operate in Scotland. These are major constitutional changes and, so far as I can see, they are not even going to be debated in the Scottish Parliament.

That legislation will be debated in the House of Commons and Scottish Members of Parliament will be expected to carry the burden of that legislation, as will this House. Yet Members of the Scottish Parliament continue in significant numbers. I am not going to embarrass anyone by suggesting that we should make them one and the same on this occasion. However, the Government need to think about how Scottish interests are going to be represented in this House and in the other place, particularly if more legislation is going to be subject to Sewel measures, which are often not properly debated in the House of Commons before they come to this place. It is very undesirable.

Something else has changed. It is deeply worrying that when Scottish MPs do their duty and speak, they are largely ignored by the media in Scotland. They focus on the Scottish Parliament and MPs find it extremely difficult to do their job, to raise interest and to be seen to be active on behalf of their constituents. Living, as I do, in Scotland and reading the press on both sides of the border, it is increasingly apparent that the media do not report Scottish affairs down here. The effect of this great devolution proposal has been the marginalisation of Scotland and the reduction in Scottish interest in matters that are of great interest to constituents.

So I welcome the order, but I regret the fact that the number of MSPs was not also addressed and that the Government seem so complacent about the effect of devolution on Scottish interests, the integrity of the United Kingdom and the ability of people in Scotland to be seen to play a key role in it.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. down the rather extraneous byways that he has been talking about. However, he made a point about Scottish matters not being reported promptly and he is a very good example of that. The last time that he made a speech in this place, it was discovered by the Scotsman three or four weeks later, which then led with it on the front page.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but he does the Scotsman an injustice. It carried a front-page story saying that I called for Scottish MPs to sit in the Scottish Parliament and here and for the 129 MSPs to be got rid of. It said that I made the speech in the House of Lords last month, in December 2004. In fact, I made the speech in December 2003, so 13 months later it reported it as a front-page story. That is the point that I am making. It seems that people in Scotland are not aware of what is going on down here and vice versa.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I was making a different point, which was that the noble Lord's speeches are always slightly dangerous but they eventually surface north of the border.

However, I rise to make a simple point on what the Minister said. He is quite correct that, as things stand, this order will come into effect very soon and we assume that the general election will be fought on the new boundaries. To my mind, it is then wholly unsatisfactory to expect the next Scottish Parliament elections to be fought on the old constituencies. I plead with the Government to make sure that the Arbuthnott commission, which is now sitting, does its job thoroughly and speedily. I also plead with them to give effect to whatever proposals the commission makes. If the Government have the will to do so, the proposals could be implemented before the next Scottish Parliament elections, so that we do not have the ludicrous situation where people in Scotland are voting on constituencies that no longer exist. The Government ought to be determined to do that, if at all possible.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long. I welcome the report. It has caused an enormous amount of discussion. The House should realise how very great the changes are. In the part of the country where I live it has involved considerable upheaval, and we are not the only part.

The work is by no means over. Everybody has been talking about the Arbuthnott commission. That is where the fun and games will now be because the Arbuthnott commission has to fit 129 Members of Parliament into 59 constituencies, and to do so by readjusting the voting system. It clearly has to readjust it because the number of list MPs will have to change in some way in order to do the calculation.

It is a great pity that this whole thing was not thought out before the Scotland Act passed through Parliament. I have not the smallest doubt that the outcome would have been very much better if it had all been part of the plan. Now that it is being carried out in this stage-by-stage way, it will be difficult to get the issue right. My mind boggles when I read the consultative report of the complications that the commission will have to sort out.

I want to ask the Minister one question. These changes are much greater than usually occur at the time of a Boundary Commission. Let us suppose that the general election is postponed until getting on for a year from now, which it could be, and there is a by-election, or perhaps more than one by-election. Presumably, judging by the Explanatory Notes and what the Minister said, the by-election will be fought on the old boundaries. Yet where I live and I think in most parts of Scotland—I have been deeply involved in this—the political organisations have been rejigged. There are new political associations and new candidates all based on the new boundaries. What will happen if there is a by-election? Will chaos ensue? It seems to be a terrible prospect. That is perhaps one reason why the Government should hurry up and have their election. However, they may not be able to judging by the way things are going. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the order and, following the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, pay tribute to the work of the Boundary Commission, the Secretary of State and the political parties in Scotland for handling in a mature and sensible way what is a major revision of electoral representation in Scotland. The matter could have been extremely sensitive and divisive. It brings credit to all the parties involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said that he had to bring forward similar recommendations which led to his eventual departure from the House of Commons. In at least some ways that was the making of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I do not know whether a similar fate will befall the present Secretary of State; I certainly hope and trust not.

Perhaps I may look forward. Comment has been made on the Arbuthnott commission. It seems to me that this is not just a Scottish issue. If the Arbuthnott commission—no one knows its thinking; I recognise that it is at a very early stage—comes forward with a major change to the electoral system in Scotland, that would inevitably have implications for the debate on electoral systems in the United Kingdom generally. So, the Arbuthnott report is not a purely domestic Scottish issue; it is a United Kingdom issue and the debate should be at a United Kingdom level.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging short debate. Perhaps "wide-ranging" is code for a debate that very often strayed beyond and well off the subject of the order tonight—but, so what? In my limited experience, every time that the word "Scotland" appears on the Order Paper, we revisit the whole concept of devolution, and we have done so briefly this evening.

First, I shall answer the two interventions on my opening speech. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, asked whether the schedule could be reprinted in a more comprehensible manner. I regret to say that the order must be passed as drafted. I have a rather long explanation of why it was crafted in the form that it was, which I shall pass to the noble Lord after the debate, and not read it now, but our solicitors believe that it is the most convenient way to draft the order. All the wards in each constituency are set out in full in the Boundary Commission report, but the noble Lord's point was well taken.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, questioned my view that there is overwhelming support for maintaining the size of the Scottish Parliament and asked for evidence of that. As I said, we discussed it at great length last year. We received about 280 responses to the Scotland Office consultation. As with everything, it is quality rather than quantity that is the determining factor. Many came from significant bodies and organisations and all political parties. Only the Conservative Party argued against keeping 129 MSPs.

I shall touch on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about the number of MSPs, which was debated very fully last year. This is not the moment to revisit that. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Sewel was sitting behind me to make his points about Sewel Motions, which I am sure have been taken on board. With great respect, we have before us tonight a fairly well defined order. Although many matters are connected to the order that we could discuss, time forbids us from going into great detail.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, I feel that the Minister is rapping my knuckles. That matter is entirely relevant. The Government propose to reduce the number of Members of Parliament from Scotland at Westminster in the other place. At the same time, more and more devolved measures are passing through Westminster because of the use of Sewel Motions. So it is entirely appropriate for me to say that, if the Government's policy is to have a devolved assembly or parliament in Edinburgh, it is rather odd if we arc reducing the number of MPs who can speak for Scotland when more and more business is being transacted here at Westminster under Sewel Motions and not in Edinburgh, where we have all those MSPs.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, perhaps I may make what I hope is a helpful intervention. I sometimes wish that I had somehow copyrighted the term Sewel Motion, in which case I could have retired even earlier from the University of Aberdeen than I did. It is a fact that the Scottish Parliament set up under its Procedures Committee an inquiry into the use of Sewel Motions—interestingly, considering them not just from the Edinburgh but the Westminster end. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would be welcomed if he wanted to give evidence to that inquiry.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I was not attempting to rap the knuckles of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth; I should not have the nerve. I was simply pointing out that very few things discussed in this House are self-contained. Everything leads to other matters. I was suggesting as politely as I could that we ought to concentrate on the order in hand and leave its implications and connections in other areas to a later debate. Obviously, we will have many more discussions on orders for Scotland and other Scottish matters.

8.30 p.m.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked a number of questions, which I shall attempt to answer. There was one practical one: do the local authorities in Scotland have enough time to make the practical arrangements necessary for the next election? Electoral administrators in Scotland have been kept fully apprised of the Boundary Commission's proposals for Westminster constituencies. The final recommendations were published in 2003. The Scotland Office will work closely with returning officers in the planning of elections.

In some areas, a constituency crosses two or three local authority boundaries. The returning officers for those will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland immediately after this order has been made. No debate and no decision are required in this House. I hope to reassure the noble Duke that preparation has been made. If there were an election in May—I have no idea about that—there is every confidence on both sides of the Border that it could be handled well and efficiently.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked about the Arbuthnott commission's position on introducing the single transferable vote for Scottish Parliament elections. As I indicated in my opening remarks, the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems, under the chairmanship of Professor Arbuthnott, is examining the issue of boundary difference and the consequences of having in the near future four different voting systems for elections in Scotland.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Arbuthnott commission. The commission is there for noble Lords to give evidence to; it wishes to hear from them. In response to an earlier question, the Government will not give evidence because it would not be appropriate, given that the commission will report to the Secretary of State. Although it is to report to the Secretary of State, the commission is independent of government, as its remit makes absolutely clear.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he know when the commission hopes to report?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

Yes, my Lords, the commission hopes to report by the end of this year.

All the practical arrangements seem to be in hand. In constituencies that have changed considerably, the relevant returning officers are well ahead in ensuring that things go well and efficiently.

The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, made the point that the Boundary Commission did not quite rely on the English quota of the electorate. I agree that this was entirely defensible and, as the noble Lord said, within the rules. It takes proper account of the Scottish geography and population, but it was not precisely the same.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, is the Minister clear in his own mind that Professor Arbuthnott does not have any prejudice about the single transferable vote?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I have no evidence, no feeling, that Professor Arbuthnott and his commission—he will not be the only person handling this important report—will not have a completely open mind when preparing their work. We hope and expect to be here in a year's time praising his report as we have praised the Boundary Commission's report today.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I am not so sure about that.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am sorry; I did not hear that remark from the Sewel Motion.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has expressed concern about the number of MSPs and the overlap with Westminster constituencies. The Arbuthnott commission is asking about constituents' experience of representation by MPs in constituencies and list MSPs, and whether improvements should be made.

I want to emphasise again that if noble Lords have strongly held views, they should pass them to the commission, which is soliciting advice and help. Some noble Lords who have spoken today have experience of politics on both sides of the Border. Their evidence would he most helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Steel, suggested that it is unsatisfactory for the next Scottish Parliament to be elected on its current boundaries. We note that, but the issue is covered in the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act, which, as I have said before, we considered last year. It requires that the next review of Scottish Parliament constituencies should be between 2007 and 2010.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to the commission. As I have said before, it is there, so please write to it. The noble Baroness asked what will happen if there is a by-election after this order is enforced, but before the next general election. As the Explanatory Note to the order indicates, by virtue of Section 4(6) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 and Article 1(2) of the order, the coming into force of the order will not affect any parliamentary election until Her Majesty summons a new Parliament. Therefore, any by-election would be under the old boundaries.

Finally, I am grateful for the intervention of my noble friend Lord Sewel who made some interesting points. I think that I have covered every question that was asked. However, we will read Hansard. If issues were raised with which I have not dealt, I will write to the noble Lords concerned and place copies of the letters in the Library.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.45 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.37 to 8.45 p.m.]