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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, not only did I listen but I was occasionally forced by your Lordships to listen to debates on a number of major issues which changed government policy. One piece of government policy which was changed remained to be enacted at the election and we still have not even seen the Bill which should have come before us by this time from the now Government who were very keen on the idea when they were in Opposition.
When we discussed the question of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament, a number of your Lordships from the governing party indicated some sympathy for the idea--the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who I see in his place, and the noble Lords, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Hughes and Lord Ewing of Kirkford. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, went quite a long way in his support of the idea. Talking about my amendment, he said:
As your Lordships are aware, legislation in this Parliament goes through four stages in both Houses. In fact, in this House it is slightly more. In the House of Commons Third Reading is formal; speeches are made which are usually of a highly political nature but not much else happens. In this House amendments can be considered at Third Reading. Indeed, this week on the Third Reading of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill your Lordships improved the Bill considerably over that proposed by the Government. One hopes that the Government will take that on board.
Therefore, in this bicameral system, legislation is considered by two different bodies and two different collections of pairs of eyes, if I can put it that way. That improves legislation and every government of all parties have found it useful to have two bites at every cherry. Even the Bills that start in your Lordships' Chamber have the advantage of going to the Commons, where they can be amended. I recall a major piece of legislation which I started in your Lordships' House--the Pensions Act, as it now is. We amended it and listened to arguments, and it was further amended in the House of Commons in response to argument both in the House of Commons and here, and also perhaps discussions the Government had with outside bodies who were interested in pension matters.
I believe that hardly a Bill passes through the second Chamber--if it starts here, the House of Commons; if it starts in the Commons, here--without any change at all and hardly a Bill passes through Parliament without the Government taking advantage of the two stages to propose amendments to their own Bill; to accept arguments either in whole or in part.
I accept--it was made perfectly clear to me in the debate on 8th July--that most people considered it to be too late in the day to start thinking about a second chamber for a Scottish parliament or, as my proposal then was, to set up a commission to consider a second chamber for a Scottish parliament. In the light of that interesting debate I tabled an amendment which does no more than give the Scottish parliament, if it so wishes, the power to set up a second chamber and to decide on its composition and powers.
Once the Scottish parliament is up and running, it may well feel that it needs some form of second chamber; that is, a chamber that perhaps takes account of different parts of Scotland, or perhaps is drawn from local authorities or even, as the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, thought, from the elected Members of the House of Commons from Scotland or the elected Members of the European Parliament from Scotland. That would mean a second chamber interlinked with the House of Commons, the Parliament of the United Kingdom and with the European Parliament, which is of increasing importance.
I am not tied to that idea, but I see its merits. One of the problems we have in this country is that we tend to run our different layers of government totally separately. We do not often countenance people being members of both. That tends to happen after elections, but people quickly resign from whichever body they believe to be the least significant. Nobody ever resigns from the House of Commons to take up their seat in the European Parliament or a seat in local government; but they do resign from local government and from the European Parliament, either immediately or at the next election, in order to take up their seat in the House of Commons.
That is often unfortunate. There are plenty of Members of this place and of the other place to be able to afford a little overlap with those other bodies. However, I can see that the same arguments will prevail in the Scottish parliament against people having dual membership for a long time, though I hope that will happen. It may well be that the Scottish parliament will want to consider the kind of dual membership outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford.
Whatever the parliament wishes to do, it should be able to do it. It should be clearly within its powers to decide to set up a second chamber, and that is what my amendment seeks. It will not in any way, as my last amendment did--I can assure your Lordships quite accidentally--delay the setting up of the parliament. It will not impose anything on the parliament from here. It will simply give it power in the future if it wishes. I beg to move.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, conceded that the proposals he made in the Committee stage of this Bill for a second chamber for the Scottish parliament came a bit late in the day--indeed, too late to be practical in their implementation without holding up the establishment of the Scottish parliament. I can only say that it was significantly and curiously late in the day. It is remarkable that the Official Opposition only discovered the merits of a second chamber for the Scottish parliament after this legislation left the other place and arrived here.
I know it will not surprise the noble Lord or disappoint him, but on these Benches we remain persuaded of the view of his colleague in another place--Michael Ancram--who was and may still be the constitutional shadow Minister for the Official Opposition. He said in plain terms that in his view there is no case for a second chamber in the Scottish context.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I am not sure that that argument is entirely helpful, especially as in the last debate his party took a contrary view to the view it took in this Chamber at the Committee stage in relation to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. People in glasshouses should not throw stones.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I do not wish to return to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. That was a different size of issue than the one now being raised by the noble Lord.
The noble Lord changes his ground, conceding that it was curiously late in the day to make this proposal in the Committee stage, and he now wants the proposal to be within the competence of the Scottish parliament. Those who have been most deeply concerned over such a long time with the establishment of a Scottish parliament have already considered this issue seriously. The Scottish Constitutional Convention went into this in extreme detail and came to a measured judgment. It decided that a second chamber was not appropriate for
I understand that the steering group which has been looking at the working practices of the Scottish parliament agreed to recommend the establishment of a civic assembly. That would bring public bodies from across Scotland together to discuss issues of relevance with the Scottish parliament. It would also have a role in the pre-legislative stages of Bills.
The considered view, arising out of the long period when the Scottish Constitutional Convention struggled for what the present Government are now bringing into being, rests on a careful judgment of the matter. The Scottish parliament will be different from the Westminster Parliament in a number of ways. It will be different in that Bills can be carried over from one Session to another in its four-year term. There will therefore be more time for the scrutiny of legislation without the need to rush in order to avoid Bills falling.
For all those reasons, we on these Benches stick to the position that we have had throughout on this matter. We are not convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, now seeks to include in the procedures of the Scottish parliament.
Perhaps I may cite an additional consideration which might be worthy of consideration by those on the Conservative Benches. I am an enthusiastic devolutionist. I am an equally passionate anti-separatist. I repeat that I am a devolutionist and that I am not a separatist. I am proud of my Scottish nationalism, but I do not believe in separatist nationalism. If one goes too far along the road of urging that the Scottish parliament should be similar to that which we have here in Westminster, I believe that that will feed separatism rather than the proper, constructive devolutionist position, which is the very basis upon which the Scottish parliament will represent a tremendous improvement in the way in which we run our constitutional affairs and look after the best interests of the people of Scotland.
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