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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If it worries the Minister--and I think it should after yesterday--I am in almost total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I was not party to conversations on the constitutional convention and, in any case, I do not believe them to be Holy Writ. However, I have come to learn one or two things about the Government. The manifesto is certainly Holy Writ and the White Paper is quite close to it. The White Paper made very clear at paragraph 4(5) that the distribution of seats in the House of Commons would be reviewed by the Boundary Commission and the Government would take away the requirements about minimum number of seats. They have translated that into Clause 81 which says clearly that the Boundary Commission should in the future make the Scottish quota not the 54,000 that I discussed a little while ago but the 65,000 as it is in England. Roughly that means that Members of the other place from Scotland will be reduced by 14.
I have no problem with that. It is not the complete solution to the West Lothian question, but it narrows the angle and is justified as part of this package. The problem then is that we come to Chapter 8.2 where we were promised 73 constituency members and 56 additional members. This is where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I do not believe that 129 was arrived at as the correct number for the job; I think it was arrived at by saying we start off with 73 first-past-the-post, and to achieve a reasonable proportionality using d'Hondt we probably need seven additional members for each one, so we have 73 to 56. Indeed, elsewhere in the Bill that proportion is laid down.
If the Members of the other place are reduced by 14, and the first-past-the-posts are reduced by 14 in Scotland, there will have to be a reduction of seven in the regional members to keep the ratio. Some little twirls will be needed in the mathematics to round up, but I think that we can roughly say that. Therefore 21 members, give or take a member, will have to be removed. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said, one cannot think of anything worse as a start to this new parliament: everyone who goes in looks at everyone else and asks, "Well, am I one of the 21 or am I one of the lucky 108?" It is hopeless.
The other reason why I think it is hopeless is that it is not devolution. It may seem strange that I should start preaching this, but if one is to have devolution one should decouple the number of Members of the Westminster House of Commons from what we have in the Scottish parliament. It seems crazy. I told the Minister that his words would come back to haunt him. They are doing that already. This is a mature Parliament. It should be allowed to decide how many Members it wants to have.
It is mad to suggest that in the first term of this parliament 21 members will have to have their throats cut, so to speak--figuratively of course--not at the behest of a Scottish parliament but at the behest of the UK Parliament. If I use the words "the English Parliament", "the Westminster Parliament" or "the Whitehall English Parliament", those Members of the Committee who come from Scotland will immediately see the considerable tactical advantage the SNP will be given. I just do not understand it. Even if the polls are not right, there will be many more members of the SNP in that new parliament than many people thought there would be when they set out on this devolution track. To hand them a little piece of ammunition like this seems to me to be stark, staring bonkers.
If I were to give the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, any advice from my slightly longer membership of this place than he has had, it is not to call a Division at this time of night but to let the Government think again over the Recess. They will have time before Report stage. Then he can bring this back in rather more prime time, when I suspect that if the Government do not see sense we might be able to repeat our feat of yesterday, give or take a vote or two.
Viscount Thurso: I support the amendment. It goes to the heart of the point that I sought to make in my own amendment. The Catch-22 situation that has been created is, frankly, indefensible. To state that the answer to the West Lothian question is to reduce the number of Members from Scotland in another place, and then to state that for neatness of administration it means that the Scottish parliament which has been created to allow that
Lord Sewel: Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 10 seek to break the link between constituencies for the United Kingdom Parliament and constituencies for the Scottish parliament. Amendments Nos. 11, 14, 15, 19 and 20 seek to provide for a separate review of Scottish constituencies and Amendment No. 10 fixes the current UK Parliament constituencies in Scotland as the Scottish parliament constituencies. Amendment No. 12 seeks to fix the number of constituency MSPs.
I cannot accept these amendments. After thinking long and hard on these matters, the Government have concluded that the balance of advantage lies with maintaining the link between Westminster and the Scottish parliament constituencies. We gave careful consideration to the arguments advanced for breaking the link, but have concluded that the disadvantages outweigh the possible advantages.
In the White Paper, we explained that we believed that the integrity of the Union would be strengthened by having common constituencies for the Scottish parliament and the UK Parliament, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland.
If Members of the Committee will allow me, I shall read paragraph 8.7 of the White Paper on which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and I have campaigned for a "Yes. Yes." vote at the time of the referendum. It reads as follows:
The effect of these amendments could, over time, lead to different parliamentary constituencies for the Scottish parliament and UK Parliament with overlapping boundaries leading to confusion among the electorate--a point that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, recognised. I am not sure that the electorate would appreciate why it was necessary for them to be in one constituency for Westminster but another for the Scottish parliament.
I am confident that once the Scottish parliament is established and its working practices are in place, it could operate perfectly effectively with fewer MSPs. Fewer members would still be able to carry out properly
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If the Scottish parliament is to end up with 108 members--although I do not suppose the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will agree with me on this--I believe that it would be better for it to start with 108 members and remain at that level rather than for it to go to 129 members and then back to 101 members.
Secondly, I suggest that the Minister is not too enthusiastic about this case because his colleagues in the Scottish parliament will read his advocacy of it and suggest that he is one of the 21.
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