Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to point out that the Constitution Unit of University College, London considered unicameral legislatures and came to the interesting conclusion that where countries had moved to having a parliament with only one House,


On the other hand,


    "Parliaments such as Denmark and Sweden, which switched to unicameralism and introduced reforms contemporaneously have not faced such problems".

The Minister will inevitably oppose the amendment, but an important principle has been raised. I refer to the fact that there should be the necessary checks and balances. One check and balance which has worked well

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1581

in the past is having Special Standing Committees after the Second Reading of a Bill but before the Bill goes into Standing Committee. As it happens, I was the Minister who had to introduce legislation to deal with raves. We thought that we had got it absolutely right, as did the civil servants. However, Opposition MPs said that there was a better way to tackle the problem. That way emerged during a Special Standing Committee. It involved a lot more work for the civil servants, but the end result was much more acceptable and was, I believe, an improvement.

Something similar happened with the Children Act which applied to Scotland, which followed a similar Act for England. A Special Standing Committee considered that Bill. Ultimately, all the detailed complaints and requests of countless different organisations involved in the area were met acceptably. I believe that the Scottish parliament will necessarily have to put in place such a check or balance if it wants to act in a wholly satisfactory manner.

There are other checks and balances, such as ombudsmen acting effectively in a whole range of ways. Auditors can also keep a close eye on, and establish a wide-ranging review of, the economy and of the effectiveness of government programmes. It may also be possible to publish Bills in draft. I hope that the Minister will consider that possibility.

Perhaps I may end with a particular request. The steering committee which is considering the various procedures and regulations by which the parliament should operate has, I understand, been putting information on the internet. I became aware of that when information relating to Pepper v. Hart, which we shall debate later, was put before me. When the steering committee puts information on the internet, I suggest that similar information is placed in the Library of this House and in that of the House of Commons. I believe that both Peers and MPs would very much like to know the information, which is of relevance to the setting up of the Scottish parliament, which is being imparted via the internet.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, looking at the government amendments, I agree with my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish that the Government have been listening. They have done some excellent things. I hope, however, that they will be able to go further. It may well be that they should seriously consider this amendment. Surely of all the issues that have been raised in this House this is probably the one on which the Government would be wise to listen to the voice of noble Lords and, if I may say so, particularly of those noble Lords from their own Benches who in Committee spoke on this matter from their long experience.

Until the Bill reached this House, very few people with experience of second Chamber work had been involved. The noble Lords, Lord Ewing of Kirkford and Lord Steel of Aikwood--alas, neither is in his place today--were not Members of this House during the time

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1582

of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, of which they were such distinguished chairmen. They were Members of the House of Commons. Members of the House of Commons probably contributed greatly to the work of the convention. I do not know whether the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie or Lord Thomson of Monifieth, were members. However, I doubt whether many members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention were Members of this House.

As I have said, Members of the House of Commons contributed, and they, like civil servants, often--naturally--regard the second Chamber as a nuisance rather than an advantage. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Scottish Constitutional Convention decried the notion of a second Chamber for the Scots parliament largely on the grounds of cost and democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, told us that in Committee. The noble Lord's experience in this House since then has not caused him to change his mind, but the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, explained to us in Committee that he has changed his mind, and why, and he suggested a way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, did the same. He described, from long experience, how governments frequently have second thoughts as a result of discussions in this Chamber.

However, it seems that that point is still not understood by the influential Constitution Unit which my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas mentioned. In a letter to the press last week, the chairman of that unit revealed that he thought that because most amendments made in this House were government amendments, that meant that they had nothing to do with amendments that had previously been introduced by Peers. That is a considerable misunderstanding.

The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, led him to think that the Scots parliament will probably need a second Chamber in due time. The experience of other noble Lords has led them to take the same view. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, and to others. My noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton spoke of the difference between pre-legislative consultation on a Bill and post-legislative scrutiny of it. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that the experience of those of us who participated in the pre-legislative scrutiny of several Bills in the last Session and, I think, the Session before was that that was a very different process. It was a useful process, but it was nothing like the same as looking at a Bill for a second time once it has passed through another place. I agree with those noble Lords whom I have just mentioned.

In Committee, I said that in our system, where the legislative process is so detailed and involves fixing detailed wording into statute, that which is brought forward from the Commons is often lacking in those respects. It needs testing--and it needs testing by more than one group of legislators. Pre-legislative consultation certainly helps but it is not the same thing at all as a second, detailed, focused examination later.

I look back at many Bills in which I have taken part in this House which are now part of the law of Scotland. There have been big government Bills and lesser

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1583

government Bills brought forward by governments of both parties. I look back at a number of Private Members' Bills which I have had the privilege of taking through this House. The vast majority of those Bills would have been less workable and less user friendly for the people of Scotland had it not been for amendments brought forward here and subsequently accepted by the government of the day.

The Minister has yawned quite a bit during this debate. I do not think he should because I believe that if the Government do not put some kind of enabling clause in this Bill to make it absolutely plain that the Scots parliament will be within its rights--

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. For the sake of accuracy I was not yawning but I have recently cracked a tooth and I am trying to find out what has happened to it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I express my deepest sympathy for the noble Lord. That is a horrible thing to happen.

I believe that if the Government do not put something like this amendment in the Bill, the time will come when the Scots parliament and the people of Scotland will rue the day because there will be a good deal of argument about whether they do or do not have a right to set up a second chamber. That would be the greatest possible pity. What is wrong with accepting an amendment such as this?

Lord Renton: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Carnegy has made a powerful argument in favour of this amendment. I would like just to add a few points. This amendment could do no harm and it may be found at a later stage to be necessary. It is merely giving an enabling power. It is a power to the Scottish parliament alone. It will have control of the matter to decide whether there should be a second chamber. If it finds that in one way and another, and in spite of the complication of the legislative powers which it is given under the Bill, and the great detail, nevertheless its legislation turns out to be perfect, there will be no need for a second chamber. But if, on the other hand, as in the United Kingdom parliament, it is found that the second chamber is necessary for revising legislation, then the Scottish parliament could set up a second chamber and that would help enormously. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth--if I may have his attention for one moment--said that this has come rather late. But surely if it is worth doing, it is better late than never.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page