Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Carmichael: It is a particularly cheap shot, even from a Scottish nationalist, to attack someone who is no longer a Member of this House. Does the hon. Lady not understand and accept that Sewel motions do not last for ever? If there is any aspect of the Bill with which she or her colleagues in Edinburgh are not happy, it is open to them, when the Bill is enacted, to bring forward amending legislation in the Scottish Parliament. Surely that is what they should be doing—they should put up or shut up.

Annabelle Ewing: That is putting the cart before the horse. Surely the best time to deal with legislation is when it is going through its parliamentary stages, which is what we are seeking to do. That is better than adopting legislation and then going through a further procedure.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: With respect to the hon. Lady, I think that I have given way quite a lot. I do not want to tie up the time of the House unduly.

Many hon. Members have argued in favour of extensive recourse to Sewel motions. However, in January 1998, the late Donald Dewar indicated that the Sewel motion would be used only in very rare circumstances. We in the SNP are trying to respect the spirit of the Scotland Act.

Mr. Carmichael: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

We hope to get the support of the Minister on the amendment. I remind him that he stated in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on 7 November that although there may be no legal obligation to refer the matter back to the Scots Parliament, if there were substantial or major changes such as the mandatory rather than discretionary jurisdiction of the courts, there would be a political imperative to do so. I therefore ask the Minister to support the amendment, so that we do not need to divide. That is the democratic way to proceed.

I also support amendment No. 226, the argument for which was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. To ensure consistency in the Bill, the director of the new agency, if he is to have a particular role in Northern Ireland, should also be required to explain in his annual plan how he intends to carry out his role in Scotland.

Mr. Hawkins: On hearing the meowing of the pussycats among the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish nationalists and Scottish Government Members, one feels, as a member of the Opposition Front Bench, as if one is intruding on private grief. We had an interesting debate on these matters in Committee on 6 December 2001. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), whose contributions were otherwise able and distinguished, had to concede that he was doing something other than what one

26 Feb 2002 : Column 600

of his spokesmen in the Scottish Parliament had asked him to do, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and I often felt that we were indeed intruding on the private grief of the other parties.

There are some serious points. As was noted in Committee, if the Government had envisaged the change from a discretionary to a mandatory regime at the time, one would have expected the Minister for Justice to inform the Scottish Parliament, so that the debate could proceed on that basis; the fact that such a statement was not made before the debate took place in the Scottish Parliament was very odd timing.

We acknowledge that, through this group of amendments, the Government have introduced some sensible changes. Government new clause 6, which will include Scottish Parliament Acts and Northern Ireland legislation, is a sensible clarification. Amendment No. 90, which amends clause 326, is also helpful. In deleting the phrase

it addresses a point that was raised in Committee. Through this group of amendments, the Government have adopted the same constructive approach that they adopted in the previous group. We await with interest to hear what the Minister has to say about the issues that have so exercised Government Back Benchers from Scotland, Scottish nationalists—I am never quite sure whether they are calling themselves the Scottish nationalist and Plaid Cymru group instead—and Liberal Democrat spokesmen.

We understand the point made by the Scottish National party in its short but none the less significant amendment No. 229. Given the overloading of amendments that we must consider in but two days, it remains to be seen whether we will have time to divide on that amendment. Although we are debating it now, it would be called for a Division not today but tomorrow, because it relates to a later part of the Bill. Once again, therefore, we might prove unable to finish discussing an important matter in this House, and it might have to be returned to in another place.

These are important matters and they will surely receive considerable attention in the Scottish Parliament. We will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say about them, and perhaps we can return to them tomorrow, or in another place at another time.

Mr. Davidson: I am somewhat puzzled by the position of the nationalists. They seem to be against Sewel motions in principle, but in favour of every individual example thereof—such as the Proceeds of Crime Bill—because they are impossible to oppose. That position gives rise to a certain difficulty, particularly when they try to argue for their proposed new procedure.

As I understand it—the Minister will doubtless correct me if I have misunderstood—under the Sewel procedure the opportunity for amendment always exists. Indeed, that is the purpose of debate in Committee and at this level. I cannot understand why, in such circumstances, the SNP did not ask the Liberal Democrats for a place on the Committee. You have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is out of order to pursue that issue and I do not particularly want to do so, but we need to consider the procedure that should be followed.

If a party such as the SNP agrees to the Sewel mechanism, it should not then argue that legislation passed by this House must return to the Scottish

26 Feb 2002 : Column 601

Parliament for further amendment. Under the Sewel mechanism, legislation should be amended in Committee, so the nationalists ought to have asked the Liberal Democrats—their bosses in respect of that procedure—for a place on the Committee. Three places were taken up by Liberal Democrats, but I presume that there was internal dissent, as they were never present at the same time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I listened very carefully and he was quite ingenious, but I do not want to go back to the general issue. Has he concluded his remarks?

Mr. Davidson: No, there is plenty more. However, I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am not to mention again that the nationalists were not represented on the Committee, and I shall not discuss the fact that they declined to ask for a place.

We need to consider how such matters are dealt with and the question of the lack of scrutiny, which was raised by the Conservatives. On several occasions, the Conservatives have threatened us with the old codgers along the Corridor. They have suggested that if they do not get their way here, they will try to block the Bill in the other place. Although the Conservatives have engaged in a degree of constructive discussion, they have also indulged in an inordinate amount of piffle and waffle. It is clear that on some occasions they were deliberately delaying business to prevent further argument on the Floor of the House.

I realise that it is often difficult for a non-lawyer—many of my colleagues are also not lawyers—to distinguish between time-wasting and the normal language of lawyers. None the less, it was clear to those of us with open minds that the Conservatives were employing circular arguments—admittedly, they were ingenious on occasion—for no purpose other than delay. We must reject completely the strategy that anything that they cannot win here, they will try to win along the Corridor. [Interruption.] I am receiving signals from those on my Front Bench to keep going, but I shall draw my remarks to a close.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that he must not keep going on that subject. May I suggest that he speaks to the amendment? We have a very considerable agenda to get through today, and he will do a service to hon. Members throughout the House if he confines himself to remarks relevant to the amendment.

Mr. Davidson: In the light of that eloquent plea, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not mention again the fact that the nationalists did not ask for a place on the Committee, and I draw my remarks to a close.

Mr. Salmond: Repeating an allegation does not make it any more true. I can well understand, having listened to that contribution, why the Committee stage on the Bill took so long. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is a one-person Committee. If only he would be as assiduous in the Chamber as he is in Committee, he would have a better chance of reselection in Glasgow.

26 Feb 2002 : Column 602

6 pm

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) attacked the SNP, the Liberals and the Government in turn, and he runs the risk of uniting us against him. Those parties share some common characteristics, one of them being that we do not necessarily pay much attention to Conservative Front Benchers. However, I hope to see the Conservatives in the right Division Lobby if the key amendment is called tomorrow.

The issue of the Sewel motion is a matter of principle. I know that the Minister will answer in that spirit, because when he appeared before the Scottish Affairs Committee on 7 November 2001 he specifically said that he could foresee considerable difficulties with legislation that was amended after a Sewel motion was passed. He said that it would be up to the Scottish Executive to go back to the Scottish Parliament. He continued:

The Minister saw a difficulty in a significant change being made after a Sewel motion, without a procedure to refer the matter back to the Scottish Parliament.

I can tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok and others that the issue is not about the Sewel process. The issue is what happens if legislation is changed significantly after debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Next Section

IndexHome Page