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Page 2, line 30, leave out from ("dissolved") to (", or") in line 33.

The noble and learned Lord said: The amendment seeks to delete from Clause 3(1)(a) the need for a resolution to dissolve the parliament to be passed by a majority on a division with the number of members voting in favour being not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the parliament. This is not the only occasion in the Bill where more than a simple majority is required, and I will turn to at least one of those examples in the fullness of time.

During the debates on the referendums Bill my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish explored various possibilities as to the form and size of majority that would be required. Time and again back came the answer, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, that a simple majority was the only sensible way of doing it, it would command support from the general electorate.

Exactly those arguments apply in this case. If the Scottish Parliament considers a resolution to dissolve the parliament, and there is a majority vote in favour of the resolution, but the majority is not large enough to pass the test set out in Clause 3(1)(a), what will happen? Scotland will be faced with a parliament that can repeatedly pass votes of no confidence in the Scottish executive, and that can repeatedly fail to reach the necessary agreement by vote as to who the replacement first minister will be. Then some 28 days later, once the time limit set out in the Bill has run its course--that is Clause 43(3)--the presiding officer, under the terms of Clause 3(1)(b), will have no alternative but to propose a day for the holding of a poll and make such proposal to Her Majesty. It only postpones the day when an extraordinary general election is required.

I firmly believe that when a parliament votes, the majority of those voting on the day in question should carry the day. Although I argue this matter simply and shortly, I believe it is of fundamental importance. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My objection to the amendment is the same as to the one we have just discussed. The noble twins on the Front Bench have not grasped the essential difference between the nature of a Scottish parliament and the Westminster system. It was set out in the constitutional convention's proposals, in the White Paper, and is now in the Bill, that this will be a fixed-term parliament.

A fixed-term parliament is different from that at Westminster where there is a maximum-term Parliament of five years, and where the decision upon holding an election within that time is entirely at the convenience of the Prime Minister. We are all familiar with the system. Sometimes the Prime Minister chooses the date voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily when the Government have lost a vote of confidence, as happened in 1979.

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We have deliberately set our minds against such a system in the Holyrood parliament. The other Mackay twin accused me earlier of believing that everything at Holyrood would be sweetness and light. I can assure him that I am not that naive. I do not believe that it will all be sweetness and light, but I hope that it will be sweeter and lighter than what we have at Westminster. That is why the system of a fixed-term parliament is set in the Bill. It follows that it should not be at the convenience of the executive or the first minister to call an election when he wishes, or, indeed, to stage manage an election when he wishes by having a simple vote in the parliament.

Once one accepts the principle of the fixed term, it is right that the Bill should specify that only in special circumstances should that fixed term be breached. Hence the reason for the two thirds majority. If, for example, there were a vote of no confidence passed by the parliament the presiding officer's first obligation, as I understand it, is to recommend to Her Majesty someone else who will form an administration. Only if, after due course of time, that is impossible would there then be a call for a further election; in other words, the Bill deliberately sets itself against a chance election within the four-year period. That is why on principle--not as a matter of detail--we on these Benches are opposed to the amendment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: Whatever mechanism is built in to the constitution, it is possible for it to be circumvented or used. Due to the lateness of the hour I shall not give a number of examples where I know that to have happened. If the first minister wanted to have an election on a particular day, I am certain that it would be possible by a combination of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, described as a "lot of politics". I think that at the other end of this building we called it "the usual channels". It may be the usual channels at this end of the building as well. People met behind the Speaker's Chair and a deal was thrashed out.

The fact that a two-thirds majority is required is no guarantee that people would play the game as the constitutional convention envisaged, as the parliamentary draftsman wrote it, or as we desire that it should operate. I do not believe that this is a significant matter. The amendment would not add to or subtract from the situation, except that, if the amendment were to be carried, the possibility of manufactured instances, where the fixed-term parliament could be breached, would be a great deal easier. There is no guarantee that it cannot be done one way or another.

Lord Sewel: There are a few places in this Bill where we think that the nature of the powers to be exercised by the parliament merit the safeguard of a two-thirds majority, putting a decision beyond the realistic reach of any one party. There are three such places in the Bill. They are the removal of the auditor general at Clause 66, the removal of a judge at Clause 89 and the dissolution of the parliament. It is the last of those which the noble and learned Lord addresses in his amendment.

It may be helpful if I explain why we have included the dissolution of the parliament in this list. The Bill is specifically drafted to separate out decisions on the

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timing of elections from the control of the executive--the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

This is the thinking behind a cycle of four-yearly elections, the fixed term parliament, and the role given to the presiding officer in the unusual event that the precise four-year timetable does not apply.

By ensuring that a dissolution can happen only with a two-thirds majority, we are ensuring that simply by being able to command a majority of the parliament, an executive does not also gain the ability to bring forward the date of an election to its perceived benefit by forcing a dissolution. This is an important safeguard which underpins the whole approach taken to the setting of election dates in the Bill and which follows directly the proposals of the constitutional convention. Without this provision it is too easy to imagine how in certain circumstances the possibility of dissolution would become a political gambling card.

I accept the observations of my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside based on his experience at the other end of the building. I accept that one cannot guarantee in all circumstances that the way in which something is intended to happen will in reality happen. We can try to make it that little bit more difficult. That is what these provisions seek to do.

Another factor is worth considering. We shall have an electoral system where more often than not a single party may not have an overall majority. We know from comparative examination of similar political electoral arrangements that there is a temptation in those circumstances to have a rolling series of dissolutions. We should try to make the situation that little bit more difficult by providing this two thirds requirement. We do not seek to keep a lame duck administration almost against the will of the parliament, but to ensure that we have that degree of separation between the calling of the election and the power of the executive; and to make dissolution a little more difficult in situations where, perhaps because of the electoral system that is being used, there may be the temptation to seek dissolution too often.

In those circumstances, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I understand the argument that the Minister advances but I do not accept it. Equally, I note that he did not have sufficient courage to face up to the point I raised: that if one can change the constitution of a country following a referendum by a simple majority, one cannot bring a parliament to a premature halt by the same majority.

I appreciate that it is a matter on which the Government feel strongly. On these Benches, it is not one about which we wish to go to the wall. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 2, line 44, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert--
(''( ) If a poll is held under this section, the day on which the next ordinary general election falls to be held (disregarding section 2(5)) shall be the second Thursday in May during the third calendar year after the calendar year in which the poll under this section has taken place.'').

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment deals with a problem which to some extent is already acknowledged by the provisions of Clause 3(3) and (4); namely the occurrence of an extraordinary general election a matter of months before the date on which the next ordinary general election would have taken place in other circumstances. Subsection (3) presently provides that if that extraordinary general election is within a period of six months of the projected date of the next ordinary general election, that next ordinary general election may not occur. But because the date of the period of six months was chosen, one could accordingly have a situation where there were two general elections within a period of seven, eight or nine months of each other. That seems to me undesirable for a variety of reasons.

Amendment No. 32 would have the effect, if I calculate it correctly, of ensuring that where an extraordinary general election took place, the next ordinary general election would be at least some 2½ years further on in time and possibly three years, four months further on in time.

It seems to me that if we are anxious to avoid repetitive general elections, the Bill could be improved by expanding on the period of six months provided in Clause 3(3). For that reason, I bring forward Amendment No. 32. I beg to move.

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