Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I thank the Lord Advocate for his reply, which gives me great comfort. I have a much greater understanding of the situation. I concur with him and hope that it is a situation which never arises. However, we must be certain about it and the Government's position is now on record. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 67 to 69 not moved.]

10.30 p.m.

Clause 18 [Presiding Officer]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No.70:


Page 9, line 12, leave out ("Presiding Officer") and insert ("Speaker").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 70. All the amendments in this group in my name simply change the name of the presiding officer to "speaker". I note that grouped with this amendment is Amendment No.143 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, which does not achieve the same result but looks at the same problem. His amendment suggests that the Scottish parliament should have the right to change the titles of a number of people, including the presiding officer.

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1668

I speak to my narrower amendment, which homes in on the presiding officer or speaker. I spoke to this matter at the Committee stage and I do not believe that I received a satisfactory answer. The title "Speaker" comes from a tradition in history that is related entirely to the House of Commons, in that he was the poor soul--it was always a "him"--who had to be dragged to the Chair because he had the job of telling the king that Parliament did not like what he was doing. The king had a habit of shooting the messenger if he did not like the message. Thus, he was speaker to the king for the House of Commons.

But all over the world, especially the English-speaking part of it, the name speaker has come to be used to denote the person who chairs a parliament. The Canadian parliament and the Canadian provinces have speakers. There is no question of those bodies being confused as between the speaker of the Canadian parliament and the speaker of a provincial parliament. Even the Americans use the name. One might have thought that they would have thrown this overboard with the tea, but they did not. One has the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the Senate and speakers of the various state assemblies. It is a title which is worldwide in its application. It refers to federal parliaments and to state parliaments and, as we are looking at what I would call a quasi-federal system, it seems to me that no harm is done by our following in the footsteps of our Commonwealth brothers and sisters.

Whether the Government like it or not, this person will be called by the population and by the press "Speaker". Unfortunately my quote the last time, which I did rather hurriedly, was misunderstood and I shall repeat it. I have a fact sheet from a very sensible organisation in Scotland, Children in Scotland, which looks after children's interests, and indeed I think has some relationships and liaisons with the Scottish All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. Its fact sheet is not designed for children but for politicians, and makes points to politicians and probably to interested adults in Scotland. This particular fact sheet contains the paragraph:


    "Members of the Scottish Parliament will be elected by general election every four years. The parliament will have a Presiding Officer (the Speaker), Ministers, a Clerk, and a First Minister (effectively the Scottish Prime Minister)."

I know how much the idea of a rival Prime Minister in Edinburgh offends the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street, but frankly I do not think that that will cut any ice in Scotland. Quite quickly the Scottish First Minister will be called the Prime Minister.

That is not my problem here. I suggested that he should be called Premier because I thought that might be a little confusing and I understand the sensitivities of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. I was trying to be helpful. I am not always helpful to him but I was trying to be helpful in that regard. Tonight we are looking at the presiding officer--I nearly called him the Speaker. The Government are sticking their heads in the sand about this. If this parliament is to be a proper parliament--and I believe that is what we all intended

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1669

it should be--it should be like other proper parliaments in the English-speaking world and be presided over by a Speaker. I beg to move.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I simply do not understand why the Government are making such a meal of this issue which we discussed at the Committee stage. I agree with him that the replies we had were really totally unsatisfactory.

Amendment No. 143 is slightly different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in that I am suggesting that we simply say that the parliament may change any of the titles listed below to whatever it considers more appropriate and that applies from presiding officer down to junior Scottish Minister. I believe that that is what will happen anyway, whatever we decide to do.

I am baffled at the Government's woodenness on this issue. One only has to look at what is happening elsewhere within the United Kingdom. The Government of Wales Act in Section 52 states:


    "(1) The Assembly shall elect from among the Assembly members (a) the presiding officer, and (b) the deputy presiding officer.


    (2) The offices specified in subsection (1) shall be known by such titles as the standing orders may provide (but are referred to in this Act as the presiding officer and the deputy presiding officer)."
Again, that seems to be making an awful meal of saying that the assembly in Wales and the parliament in Scotland may well decide to call the person the Speaker. But we have precedent already because the Northern Ireland Assembly, unlike these other two, is up and running and I have in my hand a letter with beautiful headed paper from the special adviser to the Speaker. The draft Committee on Standing Orders in the Northern Ireland Assembly provides in paragraph 2 that the presiding officer of the Assembly shall be called Mr Speaker or Madam Speaker and shall be so addressed by Members in all proceedings of the Assembly and shall be so designated in all professional communications. I therefore cannot understand why we are being told what titles we must have here. It should be left to the Scottish parliament.

Look at what is happening in Northern Ireland. They have a Prime Minister, and a Deputy Prime Minister. Mr. Seamus Mallon could not possibly be called Deputy First Minister or, worse, Second Minister. He is called Deputy Prime Minister. Common sense prevails. The Scottish Parliament could decide to use the word "Speaker". As the noble Lord said, it is commonly used throughout the Commonwealth and the remainder of the world. He could be the president; or the convenor, a very good Scottish name. But for goodness sake, why do we not leave it to the parliament to decide?

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, perhaps I may join with the views of my noble friend Lord Mackay and the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The Government have to accept that what they say is what will happen. There is no way of avoiding this. There will be a speaker and that is that. I do not know of any

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1670

person, other than the official who carries out general election or by-election responsibilities, who calls himself a presiding officer.

The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned "convenor". That is a good Scottish word. However, it perhaps implies a leader rather than an impartial chairman, which is what the speaker has to be. It would be far better for the Government to accept that "Speaker" will be the terminology in Scotland, as indeed is the word Prime Minister. Whether the Government like it or not, that is what will happen, so we may as well accept it now rather than continue to procrastinate about their providing a better term than "presiding officer". It just will not happen. I hope that the Government will see sense in the amendments.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question on Amendment No. 143, about the words "Scottish Minister". I have never been a Member of another place, but I have always considered from my experience in Parliament that the senior person has usually been referred to as the Secretary of State. Might the title "Secretary of Home Affairs" in respect of the Scottish Parliament be better than the "Scottish Minister for Home Affairs"? I put that forward because I believe that there is something to be said to Amendment No. 143. Perhaps wrongly, I have always felt that a Minister is subordinate to a Secretary of State.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, in order to put everyone out of any agony, I have to say that the Government cannot accept these amendments, which attempt to amend the titles given to certain officers by the Bill. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, replaces the title of "Presiding Officer" with that of "Speaker". All these amendments are to that end. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, goes a step further and seeks to give the parliament the power to change the titles of various offices, including those of the First Minister and other Scottish Ministers.

By now, noble Lords know well the Government's views on this issue. They are well known. At this late hour I do not intend to rehearse them all at great length. We think that it is important for the sake of legislative certainty and consistency in the law throughout the United Kingdom that the Bill prescribes the titles from the outset.

Noble Lords will agree that it is important that everyone is clear exactly who is being referred to in this legislation, in future legislation and in other formal documents. This will ensure that there is no doubt about who should be carrying out any duties provided for in the Bill. By prescribing simple and straightforward titles, we hope to ensure there is no confusion between offices and positions, so everyone knows where they stand and what are their responsibilities.

The Government believe that these titles are clear and unambiguous and suit the purpose. Perhaps they may lack some of the poetry and historical resonance of the other titles with which noble Lords are familiar. However, we are creating a new parliament, so why should there not be new titles? Indeed, we make no

22 Oct 1998 : Column 1671

secret of the fact that we want to avoid any risk of confusion with the established titles used at Westminster and for Ministers in the UK Government.

Much has been made of the unfamiliarity of the titles we are using, but I would submit that that position is changing daily. The titles in the Bill are those that were used in the White Paper and are becoming familiar to people in Scotland and beyond. While they are distinctive from titles used in the UK Government, they are consistent with the titles used in other devolved administrations. For example, the Northern Ireland Bill provides for a presiding officer. That Assembly will also have a First Minister.

Perhaps I may answer some of the points made mainly by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. Clause 14 of the Northern Ireland Bill provides for a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. These terms have been much in use in the press, especially in the past week. I heard the term First Minister in connection with Mr. Trimble and Deputy First Minister in connection with Mr. Mallon. Therefore, I do not accept that they are not being used in Northern Ireland.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, I quoted from the standing orders of the Assembly, which clearly refer to the Speaker.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page