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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale moved Amendment No. 139:

Transpose Clause 40 to after Clause 3.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment. It simply relocates Clause 40 to be alongside Clauses 2 and 3 because those are the only two clauses to which it relates. Clauses 2 and 3 require the parliament to meet within seven days, beginning immediately after the day of the poll at the general election. Clause 40 excludes Saturdays, Sundays and various holidays from the calculation. Given their close relationship, it seems to us only sensible to locate the provisions together. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 139A:

After Clause 40, insert the following new clause--

Power of the Parliament to change titles

(" . The Parliament may change the titles "Scottish Executive" and "First Minister" to such other titles as it considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 139A and with it speak to Amendments Nos. 139B and 139C. We have been over this ground a number of times. The first amendment simply empowers the parliament to decide on the titles of the Scottish executive (that is, the government of Scotland) and the First Minister (that is the Prime Minister).

The Government are being entirely, utterly and completely prescriptive in their approach to the titles, in contrast to the previous debating points they brought forward to your Lordships. Not only are they prescribing the titles but they seem determined that the parliament should not be able to change them. My view, which I have expressed to your Lordships before, is that despite the case the Government argue about Northern Ireland, "First Minister" will not last as a title. I suspect it will become "Prime Minister". To an extent, that would be a pity, not because I worry about a rival Prime Minister to the current incumbent in Downing Street north of the Border, but because it would be better if we used--as they do in some Commonwealth countries--the word "Premier" to describe the chief Minister of a devolved or state parliament.

We have been over this before. I wonder whether the Government have even reflected on changing their minds in so far as they might allow the Scottish parliament to decide. This is an issue which normally brings together the Liberal and Conservative Oppositions and the Government should take account of that and take on board the fact that we are not doing this in a negative way but because we think it would be a

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sensible way forward. It would give those gentlemen and ladies and that body the kind of titles that befit the kind of parliament the Government continue to tell me they wish to set up in Scotland. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. In particular I support Amendments Nos. 139B and 139C. There are two reasons for supporting that change. First, the title "premier" has a good precedent. In the past the head of the Stormont Government in Northern Ireland was known as the Premier. Secondly, "Premier" is shorter than "First Minister" and we should aim for brevity whenever we can.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, of all the debates that we have had on this Bill I believe this to be the most fatuous. It is quite absurd that we continue to require of the Government a change when we all hope the Scottish parliament will have the guts and verve to say that it will give its leader whatever name it chooses. I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. If the parliament decides to describe that individual as the premier or prime minister factually that will be the way that the matter will evolve. It is quite clear to me that the Government are not prepared to accept this. It is dumb and insensitive and will not do them any good. The simple question I put to the Government is the following: if those who head up the Scottish executive determine that their first minister is to be described as the prime minister or premier is that in any sense justiciable? If that change is adopted by the parliament is there anything that this Parliament or the Scottish courts can do about it?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, with Amendments Nos. 139A, 139B and 139C the Opposition return us again to the question of whether it is appropriate for the Scotland Bill to prescribe by what names certain office holders created by the Bill should be known. These amendments in particular address the titles of the first minister and the Scottish executive. Previous amendments, with which we have all become very familiar, have addressed the title of presiding officer.

By now noble Lords know only too well, since I explained it at some length--at too great a length, according to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--only last Thursday on the first day of Report stage, that the Government believe that in the interest of legal certainty certain titles should be prescribed in the Bill. By prescribing the legal title of these important offices we ensure that references in this legislation and all future legislation is consistent and there is no confusion about the roles and responsibilities.

The Government consider that it is particularly important to ensure that the names First Minister and the Scottish executive are clearly established from the outset. As noble Lords will appreciate, the Bill places very important responsibilities on the members of the Scottish executive and the First Minister. It is important that everyone is clear about who is to exercise those

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responsibilities. I believe that people will find it more helpful in that regard to have distinct titles on the face of the Bill. The titles in the Bill serve the purpose and we believe that the amendments are unnecessary. The terms "First Minister" and "Scottish executive" are already in general use in the press.

As to the term "Premier" as an alternative to "First Minister", I see no advantage, with respect to the noble Lord who has moved the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I appreciate that there is a history of the use of that title in other administrations, such as in the provincial and territorial parliaments of Canada. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, explained, in the past it has been used in Northern Ireland. However, I remind the noble Lord that today the title is First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, not "Premier". The title "First Minister" is in constant use in the press. Every time Mr. Trimble is mentioned the title "First Minister" comes automatically to most people's lips. In that context, the title "Premier" has a long and distinguished history.

But we are looking at a different situation and we must have regard to how the title would be received in Scotland today. When a similar amendment was debated in the other place the point was made that there was a risk of confusion with the Premier League, and there were other football references. I have no opinion on that matter. However, I believe that to introduce the term "Premier" now would create more confusion than enlightenment. As I have already said, the title "First Minister" is being increasingly used by the press and public. It is clear, unambiguous and descriptive of the office. The Government therefore believe that this is the right title and are not willing to accept the amendment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, asked about the power of the parliament to change the titles. The Bill prescribes the legal titles for various offices. The provisions of the Bill which provide those titles cannot be altered by the parliament as they are not included in the list of provisions in Schedule 4 which the parliament will be able to modify. A partial direct answer is that the parliament would not be able to change those titles by standing orders. However--this answers the other part of the noble and learned Lord's question--it would be possible for the parliament in its standing orders to make provisions about the forms of address to be used in the proceedings of parliament if it so wished. It may choose to use terms other than those prescribed in the Bill within its own proceedings. But I am also sure that the parliament would wish to consider carefully whether it was appropriate for someone to be addressed other than by his legal title, bearing in mind the potential risk of public confusion. No doubt the parliament will wish to have regard to what terms become common usage among the public at large. Ultimately that usage would be a matter for the parliament to decide. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, the Government are being ridiculous on this question. I think that the word "fatuous" has been used. We could go through Roget's Thesaurus and produce a list of adjectives. It is

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a nonsensical argument which we have had over and again. The fact is that the parliament in Scotland will decide what to call its officials, as the Assembly in Northern Ireland has already done, and as is allowed for in the Government of Wales Bill. Why the Scotland Bill should be different from those two I do not understand.

I have a constructive suggestion to make to the Government. Why do they not convene a focus group and put all the titles to that group? I understand that that is the convention of the Labour Party. It would find that none of the titles had any resonance and common sense might be introduced before we reach Third Reading.

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