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The Earl of Balfour: I am very concerned about the amendment. I gain the impression that it would allow small committees to be formed within the Scottish parliament. I very much hope that the Scottish parliament will be more like this Chamber and conduct almost all of its business on the floor of the House and not be split off into little sub-committees. I believe that that is one of the great dangers. The fact that Members of this place from any quarter can participate in debates or in the various stages of legislation is, I believe, one of the outstanding features of this Chamber. Therefore, I shall be very sorry if the new Scottish parliament was to have much of its business discussed in small committees.
Moreover, there is nothing to prevent any Member of the European Parliament giving a talk or having a discussion off the Floor of the Chamber in a committee room. Again, that is something which I believe to be so remarkable about this Parliament and something which I hope will be continued in the future parliament of Scotland.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: Perhaps I should make it clear that these Benches could not support any of the amendments in this group. I hope that that will be welcomed as consensus politics and that the Minister will listen most carefully to what I have to say; indeed, he always does.
However, there is an important point of principle behind the attempt to remove the two subparagraphs of Schedule 3, as proposed in Amendment No. 123. As has been said on a number of occasions, it may well be a matter for the Scottish parliament to work out the detail of how it will conduct its business. But it is important to remember that the laws which it makes will have equal standing in Scotland with public general statutes made by this Parliament. Those Acts of the Scottish parliament will not only affect Scottish people; they will also affect citizens throughout the United Kingdom who have occasion to do business in Scotland or with Scottish companies which are in some way connected with Scotland. Therefore, it seems to me to be right that the parliament in this Bill should set out certain basic requirements as to the procedure which is to be followed. In that respect, I welcome the approach set out in Schedule 3.
As far as concerns the idea of having regional committees, that seems to me to be a potentially divisive idea. There may or may not have been some argument for it in Wales, where support for the Government's devolution proposals was not so conclusive and where there was considerable regional variation, with certain parts of Wales being very supportive of the idea and other parts being very much against it. However, in my submission, that does not apply in Scotland. Not only would regional committees ignore the valuable role played by local authorities; they might also seek to divide members of the parliament, which would be entirely counter-productive as regards what the Government are trying to do in this Bill.
We also oppose the idea of having Members of the European Parliament serving on such committees. It appears to me that Clause 23 would give the new parliament and its committees ample opportunity, if they so wished, to seek the views of Members of the European Parliament by requiring them to attend such proceedings or to produce any documents which might set forth their views. We are against all the amendments in the group for those reasons.
However, while I am on my feet and while we are focusing on the provisions set out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3, can the Minister tell us in his response what will happen if, after the standing orders are in force, proper regard is not had to the balance of parties in the parliament when members are appointed to committees and sub-committees? If a particular party grouping in the new parliament takes the view that proper regard has not been had to the statutory directions set out in subparagraph (2) of the schedule, who will have the right to object, and what form could that objection take? Is this an example of where a disgruntled member or parliamentary group could go to court and have an order of some form pronounced quashing the decision of the Scottish parliament to set up a particular committee because of its membership? That is a kind of sub-question of the question that I posed late on Tuesday night. As my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said, the relationship between the court and the parliament is an important consideration.
Viscount Thurso: The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to local government. It may be helpful to reflect on a local authority in Scotland which is larger than a considerable number of countries in Europe; namely the Highland Council. From the date when that council was set up and to this day its structure includes regional committees. Each regional committee is made up of councillors of the area concerned. Therefore, the Caithness committee is made up of all of the councillors from Caithness, irrespective of whether they are independent or party. They act in an advisory capacity.
The relevant measure to implement that was passed by the noble friends of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, although I do not think he was a Member of your Lordships' House at that time. The Secretary of State of the day, who is now the noble friend of the noble and learned Lord, made it clear that one of the reasons he accepted this large grouping against the will of most of the people in the Highland area was because there would be sub-committees for each region.
There may well be a case for having regional committees in the Scottish parliament. As I understand our amendment, it seeks merely to permit the parliament to have those committees if it wishes. However, at present, as the Bill is written, it is absolutely impossible to have a committee made up of all the members of a particular region because that will not reflect the party balance. Will the Minister at least agree to think about this point and return to it at a later stage?
Lord Sewel: The Government do not support Amendments Nos. 123, 124, 125 or even, for that matter, Amendment No. 126. I shall respond to the first point that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made about the degree of detail in the Bill. We have consistently argued that, as far as possible, the parliament should decide such matters for itself. That is basically the guiding principle we have sought to apply. However, we believe that paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 3 should send a clear signal that the parliament should have regard to the balance of parties in the parliament. It is important to maintain that so that all committees contain a balance of views. But that, of course, does not preclude the parliament taking account of other factors. However, we think it is important--I refer to local government experience in this regard--to send a clear message that the committees of the parliament should be expected to be constituted in a way that has regard to the balance of parties in the parliament.
As regards Amendments Nos. 124 and 125, the noble Lord is trying to amend the provisions in the Bill about party balance on committees to allow for the establishment of regional committees. I am neutral on the issue of regional committees. Again, it is for the parliament to decide whether it wishes to establish regional committees. There may be strong arguments in favour that no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, would wish to advance. There may be equally strong
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: As regards the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, how could there be regional committees under the provisions of paragraph 4(2)? I do not want regional committees; I do not think they are a good idea but, as a matter of law, how could they be established? If they were appointed, would someone who objected to them have a right to challenge in court the fact that it was outwith the competence of the parliament to approve standing orders which fly in the face of subparagraph (2)?
Lord Sewel: My reading of the Bill is that it is for the parliament to establish those regional committees if it so wishes. I could go further and say that I see an argument that the membership of such committees should reflect the balance of parties in a particular region. Our view is that Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 are simply unnecessary. The current provision in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 does not require the parliament to ensure that the membership of every committee reflects precisely the balance of the parties in the parliament. It merely provides that the standing orders must include provisions for ensuring that in appointing members to committees regard is had to the balance of parties in the parliament. However, that is not intended to tie the parliament's hands.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: Is it not the case that the committees would recommend that any legislation would be passed by the chamber according to the balance of parties in the parliament? The committees would put the regional point of view to the parliament.
Viscount Thurso: Before the Minister responds, is there a power to have advisory committees? As the Bill is currently written, can the parliament set up an advisory committee for a region, and can that committee be composed of all the members sitting for that region?
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