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Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I support the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others. I go slightly further in asking the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to withdraw the amendment in the interests of his party. I think it quite remarkable that the Second Reading debate was the first time that the idea of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament was advanced. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is right: we should not simply copy other legislatures. I do not believe that anyone on this side advocates that we copy one or other Scandinavian country just for its own sake. But the argument applies equally to Scotland vis-a-vis Westminster. The fact is that in so far as they could be consulted the Scottish people decided against having a second chamber. The Scottish convention was open to all to participate in. It is the most all-inclusive body I can recall. It went on for ever and ever. The Scottish people decided that they did not want a second chamber.
The Government's White Paper, published before the referendum, did not mention a second chamber. No groundswell of support for a second chamber was reflected in debates running up to the referendum. The Scottish people endorsed the White Paper fairly resoundingly in the referendum.
In the circumstances, for the noble Lord's amendment to be put forward now, effectively delaying the introduction of the Scottish parliament for a minimum of a year or two years, will be construed by the Scottish people, perhaps unfairly, as meaning that the Conservative Party has not changed its spots on the devolution issue. That would be tragic. It is a great pity that the Conservatives are not represented in Scotland. It is not in the interests of democracy. The Scotland Bill throws them a life saver. It pulls them back literally from the grave. Short of an absolute cataclysm, the proportional representation proposals will ensure that the Conservatives have a voice in a Scottish parliament which they have been unable to earn in Westminster by the first-past-the-post electoral principle.
I should have thought that all noble Lords opposite would consider it in their interests to demonstrate that the Conservative Party has reverted to the party, after all, of Ted Heath, who made the Declaration of Perth in 1978, and of the late Lord Home who chaired a constitutional committee. Some eminent members of the committee unfortunately have switched sides on the issue. At the time they were strongly pro-devolution. The Conservative Party has an honourable tradition of devolution.
Lord Renton: The noble Lord is good enough to give way. I remind him that the body over which Lord Home presided recommended merely a deliberative assembly with limited legislative power; namely, to consider the Committee stage of Scottish Bills emanating from Westminster and statutory instruments but on both heads giving Westminster the last word. It was different altogether from what is proposed by the Bill.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: By no means am I suggesting that the recommendation was a precursor of this Bill. However, in the past the Conservative Party has shown itself more willing to accept devolution, even of a more modest nature, than would appear to be the case at present. I thought that things had changed. Regrettably, the amendment will be interpreted as an attempt by the Conservatives to delay the introduction of a Scottish parliament. That will do the Conservative Party in Scotland no good whatever.
I shall not go over what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. It is important to recognise that the parliament will operate differently from Westminster. Quite apart from having fixed terms, and being able to carry over legislation, an all-important and a self-denying factor on the part of the Labour Party putting it forward was the introduction of proportional representation. Until recently the Labour Party could have been assumed a landslide majority in Scotland. Instead of proposing the first-past-the-post system, the Labour Party quite deliberately put forward proportional representation,
I fully agree with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Lang. The idea that people will suddenly become a lot nicer to each other is hard to believe. It is difficult to see the Scottish media accepting non-confrontational politics. But at least the structure is in place to encourage it. Let us hope that it is successful.
It is not in the interests of the Conservative Party to put forward the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will have second thoughts and withdraw it. But let us be clear. The Government White Paper did not mention a second chamber; the Scottish convention did not mention it. Introducing it at this stage will do neither the Conservative Party nor this House any good. I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
Lord Beloff: I find it difficult to accept advice to the Conservative Party from the other side of the Chamber. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes is one of the tags which lingers in most people's minds long after their schooling.
The point I wish to raise is a different one. Many references have been made to the experience of other countries. Scandinavian countries are emblazoned on the banners of the party opposite. I thought it would be of importance and interest to find out what another small country of great antiquity and culture was doing. I therefore left consideration yesterday of what I regard as the schools lowering of standards Bill and went to Chatham House to hear the newly elected president of the Czech Senate. The Czech Republic represents a cultural tradition in Europe as long as Scotland's. The Charles University was flourishing when the ancient Scottish universities, which are under such attack from Her Majesty's Government, were also flourishing.
What did I discover? When the Czechs emerged from communist domination, they created a new democratic constitution. It provided for two chambers, one to be elected by proportional representation--a chamber of deputies, if you like, or a lower house--and a senate. But for some years the Czechs did not proceed to the creation of the senate. However, given the difficulties they were running into with their single chamber government, a senate was then produced. It is an upper house, elected by the much better device of first past the post and therefore possessing greater democratic legitimacy than the lower house.
I heard the lecture along with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The powers in legislation are similar: both houses are involved in the legislative process. The important point is that constitutional changes--the electoral system, duration of legislatures--can take place only by agreement between the two houses. I believe that there is something to gained from that, as well as from the bleak wastes of Scandinavia.
I say that because I have had experience of both Houses. I had only seven years in the other place but I have now had 20 years in this place. I am sure that the lower Chamber in our system is inadequate in its scrutiny of legislation.
It is not to be blamed for that. It is inadequate because of the burdens which are placed upon it, on the one hand, and because of the nature of the adversarial party conflict which prevails in the other place. Because of the adversarial nature of that conflict, scrutiny is not scrutiny about the Bill; in another place, scrutiny is always about politics in some way. I do not wish to be philosophical here. I am referring to party politics, which is wholly and entirely non-philosophical.
The results are quite clear. Legislation comes before us which is inadequate. It may be inadequate because of the shortcomings of the parliamentary draftsman, although I would not say that. It may well be due to the shortcomings of the instructions which they are given. They do their best to transfer those instructions into something in the nature of legislation. We know from experience that legislation that comes before us has been inadequately digested and scrutinised.
I do not know what the figures are. In this House we sometimes complain that the Government pay no attention to the amendments which we make. That is not true. Several hundred amendments go through from this House every Session. In fact, it may be more than a thousand every Session. Almost all of those amendments comes from the Government because they have realised how inadequate the legislation was and how inadequately it had been scrutinised in another place. They then try to put the matter right here. Those thousand or so amendments are usually accepted. There are the more exciting ones which are usually political in nature which cause a certain amount of fuss. We had some amusement just the other day. I voted with the Government then with my teeth gritted and my eyes shut. The Government were wrong, as they so often are. That is a feature of government. The party in government is almost always wrong.
However, the Government get the big picture right. In this case, the big picture is the Scottish parliament. I nearly used the dread word "assembly" but I just managed to avoid it. The Minister is looking at me cunningly. The Government get the big picture right but they then get the framework within which the big picture is supposed to function wrong. They have got it wrong here again.
This matter of scrutiny is essential to our system. The only way in which it can be done is by having a second Chamber of some kind. I shall not attempt to describe what that second Chamber should be like or even to think about it at this moment. I am sure that the noble
But the weakness in the proposal is that there is to be some kind of pre-legislative committee which will look at the legislation which is coming forward. After it has looked at it and presented it, it will then be passed. That sounds great if you are very naive and young, as I am. But it is not wonderful because do not forget that the members of the pre-legislative committee will be the same people who will later pass legislation. If I know politicians--and I certainly do know them in view of the 45 years or so in which I have been in politics-- I find it incredible to imagine that they will change their minds in a few months, if ever. If any Member of the Committee knows a politician who has changed his mind, perhaps he will tell me before we take a vote.
Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has a sound, pronounced, strong and irrefutable point. I plead with my colleagues on the Front Bench to harken to advice just this once. The Government have been in office for only a year or so and they have not listened to too much advice so far. However, the time is coming when advice must be heeded. I suggest that my noble friend begins now.
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