Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has made what I regard as an unanswerable case for a specific Scottish commissioner. There is a very strong case for a commissioner ordinarily in residence. There is a very strong case because we could draw a parallel with Northern Ireland. I might be tempted to go into that in referring very briefly to the reason why Northern Ireland should have a resident representative.

Living four days a week in London, as I do, I frequently come across people who introduce themselves as Ulstermen. They explain that they are members of very laudable professions. They ask about the old country and their questions reveal to me that they know absolutely nothing about political affairs, electoral matters or general public opinion. I ask how long it is since they visited Ireland. They reply, "I think I was there in the 1950s".

It would be unfair for a commissioner, even if he had Northern Irish origins, to be placed in the position within the context of his fellow commissioners of giving a view and a snap judgment on something dealing specifically with elections in Northern Ireland. It can be baffling enough for those of us who live there, even more so for those who do not.

I use that point to reinforce the case made by the noble Lord in moving his amendment. It is one thing to have someone allegedly belonging to or having been born in a given part of the United Kingdom before moving permanently to another. It is quite another to expect them to commit themselves to giving specific answers which may have a legal and binding effect on the report of the commission. It has to be recognised that what one is creating is what I can only regard as a super-quango, the like of which is difficult to find even in less important aspects of national life.

The Bill specifically states that members of the commission,


Her Majesty will act on the advice of her Ministers. But the crucial question is: who advises the Ministers in these delicate matters? I offer another analogy of which noble Lords will be very well aware. Will Price Waterhouse be once again invited to "head hunt" and come up with members of the board of Tesco or Barclays or someone of that kind? Will they have any practical experience of that with which they are asked to deal? In the context of the dreadful word "transparency", will the emphasis be on quotas of various segments of society in the United Kingdom regardless of their knowledge of electoral matters and traditions going back more than 700 years, or will they be confined to reading what appears in The Times or in the Sun, which appears to have changed its attitude? Will they be bereft of any practical experience in the delicate matters with which those of us who, God help

11 May 2000 : Column 1738

us, have submitted ourselves to the electorate time after time and therefore know what it is like to be at the coalface will be familiar?

I am not suggesting that we should be selected. I am simply saying that it would be unfair to people to be plucked out of obscurity, worthy persons though they might be but with no practical knowledge of electoral matters. If in reply to my point about the lack of wisdom of appointing commissioners simply because of their background in relation to segments of the population the Government say that appointing a territorial representative from Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland would be disproportionate and make the body disproportionate, the remedy resides in a later amendment to increase the total number of members of the commission.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I should like briefly to support the amendment. I, too, was going to draw attention to what happened last Thursday. A commission has been appointed to look for Cross Bench Peers but there is no one there who lives in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who is a distinguished person, lives in Suffolk. It is not easy to know who is who in Scotland when you live somewhere else.

The commission proposed in the Bill will have to deal with some very sensitive issues indeed. It will deal with political parties. There are political parties which exist only in Scotland as there are political parties which exist only in Northern Ireland or only in Wales. There is a very sensitive issue in relation to the Scots Parliament in that under the boundary committee duties proposed in the Bill the commission will have the indirect effect under the Scotland Act of deciding how many Members of the Scots Parliament there will be. To give that duty to someone who is not present in Scotland would be the greatest possible mistake.

I am not suggesting, and the amendment does not suggest, that the person should represent Scotland, but he or she would be a member of the commission who is in Scotland, understands Scotland, knows what is going on there and is trusted to do the job by the Scots Parliament and by the people of Scotland. It would be very wise of the Government to look hard at this amendment.

Lord Howie of Troon: One of the most enjoyable experiences that I have had in this House is the number of occasions on which I have found myself in almost complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. However, on this occasion I really must dissent from him. I hope that his feelings are not too hurt by my apostasy. The noble Lord seemed to be suggesting that in some way you could cease to be a Scotsman by living in England. The noble Lord shakes his head. None the less, that is the impression that is left in my sensitive soul.

As many noble Lords will know, I have lived in London for approaching 50 years. I do regard myself as a Scotsman and I think that most noble Lords regard me as such. As proof of that, I remember once remarking to the House that three of my children

11 May 2000 : Column 1739

who were born in London were born at University College Hospital, which was as near as my wife could get to St Pancras Station, from where the train left for Kilmarnock. The other child was born at the Whittington Hospital in Archway. He came back from school one day and said that since he was born in London he must be an Englishman. His three siblings very briskly remarked, "No you're not. You're a Scotsman because your blood is pure". Much as I admire the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, much as I agree with him and much as I should like to agree with him, which I often do, I must dissent from him on this occasion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have found this, as ever when a debate is led by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, an interesting, charming and witty discussion. However, I do not see the case for requiring one member of the commission to be ordinarily resident in Scotland. The electoral commission will be a UK-wide body. I do not see why it should be the case that Scotland should be singled out in any particular way or for particular and special treatment.

What we want to do is to bring forward candidates who are the best people for the job and who between them have an understanding of electoral and political matters across the United Kingdom. The commission will be a collective decision-making body discharging its functions across the country as a whole. It most certainly will not be a collection of commissioners, each of whom are individually responsible for a particular part of the United Kingdom. Given that approach, it is our view that we should avoid being unnecessarily prescriptive about who may be appointed. It may be that there are two or three outstanding candidates who are ordinarily resident in Scotland. If so, the question has to be asked: why should not all of them be appointed or certainly considered for appointment? Under the noble Lord's amendment we would be forced to choose only one of them.

When we come to appoint the additional commissioners to chair the four boundary committees, different considerations will need to apply in those circumstances. What we will be looking for there are people who have relevant experience, perhaps of local government, in a particular part of the United Kingdom. It is likely, therefore, that the chairman of the Scottish boundary committee will be someone who currently lives in Scotland or has recently lived and worked in Scotland. But I suggest that we can sensibly leave that consideration to the selection criteria rather than write it on the face of the Bill. With those, I hope, encouraging closing comments, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister, although, to be honest, he has not made a very good start to this Committee stage. Perhaps I should start by saying how much I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, cannot agree with me on this occasion. I fully accept that he is clearly a Scot. My

11 May 2000 : Column 1740

goodness, after 50 years of living in London his accent has been untainted by this great city. That is certainly to his credit.

But much as I admire the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, living as he has in London for 50 years, I would not expect him to have a detailed knowledge of what exactly is going on in Scotland day-by-day with the new arrangements for elections and the comings and goings of the Scottish Parliament. They are heavily reported in the Scottish press; in fact, to the almost total exclusion of Westminster, something that annoys the Members of Parliament from Scotland in the other place. Occasionally, they break into the national newspapers; for example, Section 28 or--I am going to say it--my friend Donald Dewar's heart operation, from which, I am pleased to say, he is making a steady recovery, although it is early days. That certainly made the national press. All the comings and goings and the differences in elections are not common currency in England.

I suggest that, if the noble Baroness the Leader of the House decided last week that the appointments commission ought to have a person who, it is clear from her CV, comes from Northern Ireland, and another who clearly comes from Wales, and then felt obliged to suggest that the Scot should be the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson--who, as one of my noble friends said, is more English than he is; and he is pretty English--obviously the argument in favour of having some representation around the United Kingdom has been made and has been accepted by the Government.

I attempted to put forward this argument when we discussed the composition of the Monetary Policy Committee. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Paul, is in his place. The noble Lord will remember that I did not even ask for a Scot--anyone from north of Oxford would have done, or anyone who came from the Midlands, although we might not have quite the same activities. I was not nominating the noble Lord, Lord Paul, himself, but that would not be a bad idea. I do not see why his views on these matters should not be heard. The whole object of my argument was that the industrial parts of the United Kingdom were totally without a voice on the Monetary Policy Committee. Frankly, that is now showing very severely: the manufacturing sector, whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, is suffering greatly. I do not know whether anything can be done about it, but the manufacturing sector might have a little more confidence, even if the academic appointed to the committee were from a university based in one of the industrial parts of the country.

We have had these arguments before. It is interesting that the Monetary Policy Committee and, in this case, the Government have not thought such a provision necessary, whereas in regard to the appointments commission they did think it necessary, although in one case there was some pretence.

11 May 2000 : Column 1741

We need to have at least one person who is ordinarily resident in Scotland on the commission. It will have an important role to play in these matters. Indeed, I suspect that when we come to debate amendments relating to Northern Ireland, we shall need to consider carefully whether there should be an appointee who is ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland, given the huge and dramatic changes the Government are making to the Bill.

I am not satisfied and, frankly, I do not want to carry this matter on to the Report stage. I want to see the Government vote against the interests of Scotland. Therefore, I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.

4.32 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 146.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page