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Lord Hughes of Woodside: I listened to the noble Lord with great interest. I might have misunderstood his demeanour or body language from this distance, but I thought I saw a little bit of a twinkle in his eye when he moved the amendment and thought it was a little bit tongue in cheek. If I follow his argument for a second Chamber, it is very thin. He says that the problem is that the parliamentary draftsmen do not always get it right. I cannot speak with any great experience in this House and I would not wish to make a value judgment on how well this House revises legislation. It is my very strong view, having spent 27 years in the other place, that there legislation is very inadequately discussed. The Committee stages can last for days and long nights and seem to have been turned not into revising sessions but into arguments on principle to prevent Bills getting through. This to some extent reflects the adversarial nature of the House of Commons, with a government and an opposition.
All oppositions behave broadly in the same way. Whatever governments put forward, oppositions feel obliged to oppose. The whole purpose of an opposition is to oppose. Other noble Lords may have the same experience. Very little practical discussion takes place. Will the situation be any better in the Scottish parliament? We do not know. There are some intriguing debates to follow on how the Scottish parliament will be elected. Clearly the thrust of the Scotland Bill is that there should be a building up of consensus and working together. I take the point made by the noble Lord that consensus and agreement are not always the best way to proceed, but if there is proper discussion about proceedings before the parliament and the issues to be discussed, we can make a lot of progress.
I am sure that it would be very difficult to do a check, but it would be interesting to know how many of the changes made to a Bill are because of genuine flaws in the operation of a Bill or part of a Bill and how many
Intriguingly, the one point that the noble Lord did not mention is the division of responsibility--where an elected body has an authority which no appointed Chamber has. I do not intend to get into a discussion on the merits of a quango system to replace this Parliament or whether patronage for one generation is better than patronage over several generations, which is the only difference between hereditary and non-hereditary Peers. However, we must think carefully before setting up a body in the Scottish parliament which will rival its power and lead to all kinds of differences.
I am no expert on the American constitution, but my rudimentary knowledge of it is that the initial constitution had an elected congress and an appointed senate. It was always intended that the senate should be the junior partner of the two Houses. But it was said that an appointed system, however well it was defined and arranged to allow for difference in size and influence, would not be democratic. In this case the noble Lord has suggested one from Glasgow, one from Orkney and one from Shetland to redress the balance of the regions, and we will return to that point later.
The Americans therefore arranged to have an elected senate. Whatever the reality of the American constitution, the fact is--although some constitutional experts disagree--that the senate is now the more powerful of the two Houses, which was never the intention.
A second Chamber would bring back into the equation in Scotland an argument that has continued throughout its constitutional history and still continues: which of the two Houses of Parliament is superior? Is it the lower House which is elected or is it this House which is appointed or achieved in other ways? If it is elected the argument about power will become exacerbated.
Leaving aside the theoretical argument, there are attractions to a second Chamber. However, the White Paper makes it quite clear that the new Scottish parliament should be up and running in 2000. There have been many discussions over the years as to whether there should be a Scottish parliament. There are noble Lords on the other side of the House who have blown hot and cold about it. However, during the Second Reading debate in this Chamber there was no head of steam about the necessity for a second Chamber. The matter was not discussed. It was discussed in some detail in the Scottish Convention, on which I served for a year, but it was concluded that we did not need a second Chamber.
If a commission is set up, it will take at least as long, if not longer, to arrive at an acceptable 15 members of the commission than it will to do the work. The noble Lord put the amendment forward in a beguiling manner, not because it is a wrecking amendment, because that would not be allowed and he would never dream of
I have no doubt that the new Scottish parliament will make mistakes--I cannot think of any legislature in the world that has not made mistakes--but it should start as soon as possible, with its powers clearly defined, so that there is no need for a second Chamber, with some degree of consensus and a willingness to ensure that legislation is brought forward with due thought and care and proper drafting.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: It may seem rather churlish after the success of yesterday's Mackay/Steel partnership that I should rise so early in these debates in my more familiar role of disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, but I cannot commend the amendment to my noble friends.
There was one sentence in his remarks with which I did agree--when he said that the issue of a second Chamber ought to be considered. The first point that I should like to make is that it has been considered at length. I remind the noble Lord that the Minister of State during the Second Reading debate told us that the legislation with which we are now proceeding is based on the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. That convention sat not for weeks or months but for years, and the fact that the Conservative Party chose not to take part is a matter for the Conservative Party and not anyone else. They would have been welcome to participate in those discussions and they would have heard much discussion on this vexed question because it was thoroughly considered.
We rejected the idea of a second Chamber largely on grounds of cost and bureaucracy. We were very concerned, remembering the arguments that raged in the 1970s about extra layers of government; and that was the fundamental reason why it was rejected.
I pray in aid of that argument no less a person than Mr. Michael Ancram. I quote him not only because he is a former constituent of mine and a prospective Member of this place but because he is supposed to be the constitutional spokesman of the Conservative Party. On 19th May in the other place, he said:
The reason is clear when we look at the proposals for the parliament. Mr. Ancram conceded that other parliaments had unicameral legislatures, and those occur in countries with not dissimilar populations from that of Scotland--Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and others. That has to be considered. Moreover, if one looks at the proposals in the Bill and the White Paper, it is intended
Every Bill will have a much longer pre-legislative stage, and post-legislative scrutiny will be much more substantial. That should be borne in mind. An important point is that it has been agreed that each session of the Scottish parliament will last for a fixed term of 4 years, and that Bills can be carried over--something that does not happen in this place. There will be more time to scrutinise legislation. There will be no need to rush up against a July or October deadline. That should give us more confidence that the scrutiny of legislation in a unicameral parliament will be better than it is here at Westminster.
For all those reasons, I believe that we would be wise not to accept the amendment. Throughout these Committee proceedings, certainly on these Benches, we may at times be in disagreement with the Government or in disagreement with the Conservative Party, but we start from the proposition that, when in doubt on any issue, we should leave matters to the Scottish parliament itself. In years to come, the Scottish parliament may well look at the suggestions, for example, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, on Second Reading, when she talked about the situation in Norway where the elected parliamentarians divide themselves into two groupings. That could be. Let us leave that to the Scottish parliament in the fullness of experience. In the meantime, let us press on with getting it, first, legislated, and then elected.
Lord Lang of Monkton: I support the amendment and the proposal that there should be two chambers to the Scottish parliament. I was asking myself whether it was on cost or democratic grounds that the Government had rejected that option. I find it odd that they should reject it on democratic grounds since they have long complained that there was a democratic deficit so far as concerns Scotland. If indeed it is on the grounds of cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, suggested, I believe that cut-price democracy would lead to second rate legislation.
The very fact that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was able to point out how many amendments have been brought forward, not just by opposition parties but indeed by government themselves, and accepted, in this place over the years underlines the value of having a chance to reflect and revise legislation in a second chamber.
It has been suggested that without a second chamber there would be more time to consider legislation. That is an argument that cuts both ways. With a second chamber, the option of introducing legislation in that chamber and enabling it to pass down to the elected chamber applies.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, drew a comparison between the US Senate and Congress and what might happen in a Scottish parliament. I do not believe that that comparison is valid for a whole host of reasons which brief reflection would easily bring to the
As I understand it, the Government's arguments centre around three points. The first is the arrangements that exist in various Scandinavian countries. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish answered that point effectively. We should seek what we believe is best for us in the light of our experience, legislative customs, and what we believe would best allow for reflective and well-considered legislation.
The second argument is the proposal which we heard from the Government Benches on Second Reading and again just now from the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It is that there would be a far longer pre-legislative consultation period, and so legislation would be very much better before it reached the Scottish parliament. I am all in favour of pre-legislative consultation. Indeed, it was a feature of the White Paper, A Partnership for Good, which I laid before Parliament some years ago. It was then my intention that it should be done in the form of a special Standing Committee to take evidence from pressure groups and interested parties before all substantive Scottish legislation.
It was first used in Scotland in the context, as I recall, of the Children (Scotland) Bill. That Bill was the product of many detailed reports, inquiries, causes celebres and other considerations. The Bill was the subject of extensive consultation before it went into Standing Committee. I do not believe that there is any evidence that the Act, as it finally appeared, has escaped the rigorous post-legislative analysis that so many Acts of Parliament receive, and which found shortcomings in it.
Nor do I believe that it is right to compare pre-legislative consultation with post-legislative consultation. Before legislation, debate is less focused than after legislation. Before legislation, it is a matter of listening to pressure groups and those with vested interests. Post-legislative consideration of legislation in a second chamber allows for a more objective and dispassionate view of the sections in an Act, and also one that is better informed by the arguments that have already taken place, and by the focus on the issues of the legislation that emerge during that period.
The third argument that the Government have advanced against a second chamber is that somehow politics are all going to be different in a new Scottish parliament: they are going to be more inclusive; more consensual; everyone will be less adversarial and more friendly. If the Committee believes that, it will believe anything. I believe that the politics are likely to be more acrimonious, especially if there is only one chamber. One of the benefits that this distinguished Chamber brings to legislation is that debates take place in a less adversarial and a less acrimonious atmosphere. That has led to a substantial improvement in legislation over the years.
As to what form a second chamber would take, clearly there is here a huge debate which would have to be developed over a period of time, once the principle were accepted. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who was in his place today, suggested that the second tier of members--the proportionately elected members--might form the second chamber. That would be an economical way of approaching the matter, but it would not get away from the party list, and the party divisions, and it would replicate, largely, the elected component on a constituency basis in the parliament.
My noble friend Lord Mackay suggests that there should be two separate chambers. That implies a whole new raft of individuals and costs. Clearly, those considerations should be taken into account. I do not believe that the argument that this place should act as a second chamber of the Scottish parliament should be too easily dismissed. It is surely not beyond the wit of Members of this place and the Government to find a way in which the strong interest in the affairs of Scotland, as a component nation within the UK, should have the opportunity to find expression in consideration of Scottish legislation emerging from the Scottish parliament. Clearly, the balance of powers has to be addressed carefully. There would be no purpose in this place acting as a second chamber to override the elected chamber in Scotland, any more than it would ultimately override on important issues of legislation the views of the elected Chamber within these Houses of Parliament.
There is a possibility that this UK Parliament could continue to hold together the UK, so threatened by the Bill that we are debating. Every wall, every archway, and almost every panel in the building, carry on them the emblems of the countries that make up the UK. That is a reflection of the confidence that our Victorian forebears had in the role of these Houses of Parliament to reflect the interests of all the nations that form the UK. I do not believe that we should cast that aside lightly, as we are in danger of doing if we do not allow a second chamber to consider legislation in the Scottish parliament.
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