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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I rise to support my noble kinsman and my noble friend wholeheartedly in what he said. It was clearly agreed by the constitutional convention that the number of MSPs should be 129 in order to maintain proportionality. That was 73 constituency Members and 56 additional ones. The Government are already reneging on this agreement and we wonder why. If the Government want to reduce the Members at Westminster, there is no reason why this should affect the number of MSPs.
We do understand the argument about over-representation at Westminster. The situation is different for Scotland. The argument that there should be similar boundaries for both is not a good one. I have heard the Government put the argument that it is confusing for the electorate. I do not believe the electorate is really that stupid. It is already used to a range of different boundaries for different candidates for Westminster, for local government and for Europe, and it is also used to changing boundaries. This is a totally new situation and, therefore, different boundaries are part of the newness. What is much more confusing is to institute something new and then immediately start to change it. It is the worst of all worlds and it means that you are in a position of uncertainty from the word go. I believe also that it is politically inept because it gives a lever to opposition parties and has, as I am sure noble Lords already know, resulted in some not very favourable comment in the Scottish press.
Clarity, stability and consistency are essential for our new parliament and to signal that the original boundaries are to be changed within a short space of time is to launch with uncertainty for the future, create inconsistency from the beginning and undermine confidence from the start. I cannot believe that this is what the Government really want.
The figure of one hundred and twenty-nine MPs, as my noble kinsman has said, was agreed after much consultation in the constitutional convention in order to give the vital element of proportionality, which is the cornerstone of the new parliament and one of the key features which distinguishes it from Westminster. It is part of the reason, I believe, that the people of Scotland have responded with such enthusiasm and support for the parliament. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, acknowledged during the Committee stage of this Bill on 8th July that the greater proportionality built stability into the system, the stability that we want and need. The White Paper underlines this. To reduce the number from 129 reduces that proportionality. It thus erodes the very feature of stability which is so essential. Is this what the Government really want?
As I understand it the number of MSPs was also calculated, as we have already heard, on the ability of the MPs in the Scottish parliament to do the business effectively. We must have a parliament that works efficiently. We must have enough people there to do the
The reduction proposed by the Government would narrow the base and diminish the opportunities. I believe that it is in complete opposition to the spirit of the proposals of the constitutional convention. As my noble kinsman said, the diminution of rural representation--we cannot allow that in a country such as ours--plays to the fears that in Scotland we shall have a parliament dominated by the central belt. That would be a real anathema.
Lastly, in purely practical terms, the new building will be designed to accommodate some number of MPs. Designing and building in facilities for an unspecified number could not be more impractical and costly, and is a hallmark of bad management. I am sure that the Government would not wish to find themselves characterised as a bad manager. It is inevitable that if up to 20 members have to be provided for at the beginning who then melt away, the result will be an enormous waste. Such details are the hallmark of the quality of any operation. I believe that the signals are very bad.
I return to the terms of the stability, consistency and coherence so necessary at the start of any enterprise. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, who I see in his place, knows about good management, and the importance of good planning and attention to detail. One might say that the devil is often in the detail.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, what the noble kinspeople have said is absolutely right. I agree with them. We have heard all about what happened in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The question is: why have we got where we are; and what will the Government do about it? The Government have a problem.
Let us remind ourselves why the constitutional convention decided as it did without regard to what might happen at Westminster. It was not asked to consider what happened at Westminster. Its terms of reference asked it to devise a scheme for Scotland and to sell it to the people of Scotland. That was reasonable enough. It did that. It did not consider this difficulty. If it considered the difficulty, it did not come within the terms of reference. I may be told that that is not so, but I looked up the terms of reference and spoke on the subject two Queen's Speeches ago, so I believe that I am right on that.
The Government's problem is this. If there were as yet no Scottish National Party in existence, the implementation of this part of the Bill would bring about a Scottish national party. I say "the implementation" because it is only when it happens that the trouble will really begin. On the face of it, the Government's plan seems reasonable in the circumstances. It would be most convenient for voters to have the same constituencies for Westminster and for Holyrood. The description of the scheme in the White Paper, and given by the noble Lord in Committee in this Chamber, was very reasonable. It sounded sensible. If we are going to reduce the number of Members of the Scottish parliament, it is wise not to alter the balance between constituency Members and proportional representation Members, when one considers the problems that we already perceive of the effect that proportional representation may have on the way in which the electorate views the issue.
Most people agree that the number of Westminster MPs should be reduced. But let us imagine what will happen when that comes about. The Boundary Commission recommends a reduction in the number of Scots MPs at Westminster and the constituency boundaries. The elected members of the Scottish parliament have to be reduced, and the boundaries changed because of that. The Scottish parliament will explode. The Scottish National Party, which has been keeping rather quiet because it is just the kind of row for which it is waiting, will explode too. What is the solution proposed by Scotland? It is that the Westminster boundaries should not be changed. That is what will happen, and English MPs at Westminster will explode too, and with reason.
Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 looks and sounds reasonable. We all know why the problem has occurred. The Liberal Democrats know why the problem has occurred. It is right that the problem has to be solved. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish has an amendment on this matter to which he will speak. The only alternative is that proposed by my noble friend and the Liberal Democrats. An inconvenience to Scots voters and to party campaigners which would not affect voters elsewhere in the UK is the least of two difficult alternatives.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on having 129 MPs. It would be an entirely wrong signal if we were to set up a parliament and inform those elected to it at the same time that a large proportion of their number would be axed shortly by the Boundary Commission.
In relation to the Westminster Parliament, because of the West Lothian question, the issue is quite different. If Stormont is a precedent to go by, the arguments for reducing the numbers in the House of Commons are
The Highlands and Islands of Scotland require a considerable number of representatives because of the immense distances involved. They need to have lifeline services both through air and ferry travel. There are also the health needs of those concerned. I could not help but recall a book written by the father-in-law of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, called Laxdale Hall. The story was that English politicians went to remote communities in the Highlands and Islands to advise them to live in centres of population and their problems would then be resolved; they would have plenty of public expenditure for which they were calling. That has occurred only in the case of St. Kilda. I do not seriously believe that any politician of any political party would advocate today the measures that were applied to the residents of St. Kilda, which had special circumstances. Even then that was an intensively controversial decision. The needs of remote rural communities are sufficiently strong to require a considerable number of representatives, so that the immense distances can be effectively covered.
At stake is whether the well-being of the Scots parliament should come first or the administrative convenience of the public servants who would have to draw up two sets of boundaries. I believe strongly that the well-being of the Scots parliament should come first: that continuity is important; and that to have immense chops and changes in numbers as soon as the parliament is created would give the wrong signal. It would be unsettling at the beginning of the parliament; and it would be neither desirable nor necessary. I hope most earnestly that the Minister will listen to the argument for 129 MSPs.
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