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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I hope that my noble friend will acquit me of discourtesy but I am afraid that I do not hear interventions. In fact, I have considered whether I am justified at all in addressing Members of the Committee in debate when I do not do so.
Perhaps I may try to continue the point. It may be understood and it may be argued that we are reviving a bicameral Scottish parliament. I doubt very much whether that is the intention of the Government, although they have asserted repeatedly the value to the constitution of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, mentioned that on Second Reading in most generous terms.
Lord Mishcon: I have a short declaration to make which is that no ancestor of mine was a member of the Parliament that existed in Scotland prior to 1707. But I have every reason to believe that that Parliament had a very great respect for the Ten Commandments.
The Earl of Lindsay: I am tempted to temper the description of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish when he said that the amendment was trivial because it has raised issues which I hope the Minister will address. There is some confusion as to the exact status of this parliament. A number of different solutions have been put forward by the noble Earl and by other Members of the Committee. It would help if the Minister could lay some of those ghosts to rest.
The Earl of Lindsay: I hope that the Liberal Democrat Party has some sort of collective unity which enables it to take a position on the Bill. What has surprised some Members of the Committee is that the Liberal Democrat Party, which played a crucial role in
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The view is taken on these Benches that the sooner this Act is passed the better. Let the people of Scotland and Wales decide without all this shilly-shallying which we are hearing from the Conservative Benches.
The Earl of Lindsay: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will agree that we are beholden to, and, indeed, have been requested by, people outside this Chamber to make sure that the Bill receives full parliamentary scrutiny for the sake of both those who support devolution for Scotland and Wales and those who oppose it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Liberal Democrats want to see what sort of proposals come forward from the Government for the creation of a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales. When those proposals come forward, as we hope they will, then we shall have a full debate on the particular type of devolution which we require.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Having taken part in this debate, and shortly, I hope, I object to being accused of shilly-shallying. I regard that as an offensive, gratuitous and singularly unpleasant remark. Will the noble Lord understand--he has not been here all this time--that we have a duty to do and we are doing our best to do it?
The Earl of Lindsay: Perhaps I may make one point about the amendment which was covered largely by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, helpfully circulated a letter to Members of this House who took part in the Second Reading debate to explain, first, that his amendment does not seek to bring any harm to the Bill, but secondly, that there is a danger that we may have two parliaments in Scotland.
In some respects, whatever happens to this amendment, should devolution be voted for and delivered, there will be an element of two parliaments operating in Scotland. Every Scot, wherever he or she lives, will have two parliamentary MPs representing him
The more important point about the danger of having two parliaments in Scotland is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. He quite correctly was reminded of the fact that the proposals being put forward by the Government are for unicameral government in Scotland. Uniquely in the United Kingdom, the Scots are to have a parliament devolved to them which is capable of creating primary legislation but which will not have any ability to revise that primary legislation. There will be no counterbalance so that a second look can be taken at any suspected excesses achieved by that single chamber.
Perhaps the Minister will pass on a request to those completing the White Paper. During the debates on the Queen's Speech my noble friend Lady Blatch referred to bicamerality and unicamerality. In a letter succeeding that debate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, said that the Government intended that the Scottish parliament would be a modern and effective parliament with built-in procedures and opportunities for the scrutiny and revision of legislation and its business. Given that much of the parliamentary legislation that affects all Scots will now be changed from a bicameral to a unicameral democratic system it would be useful if the noble Lord could explain, either today or in the White Paper, exactly what built-in procedures the Edinburgh parliament will have in order to replace the role that is now provided by the second Chamber in Westminster.
I return to the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. As later stages of the Bill are pending it would be useful if the various questions and uncertainties that have been raised by this amendment were properly put to bed by the Minister.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: I greatly enjoy the privileges of this House. One of them is the relaxed atmosphere in which debates are conducted. We do not have a Speaker in this House. That imposes on its Members a certain degree of self-discipline. The subject before the Committee today is the question whether or not a referendum should be held. We have had long debate in the course of these proceedings on what kind of parliament there should be, whether it should be a unicameral parliament, and so on. That issue will arise from our deliberations and debates on the White Paper and on the amendment. I appeal to noble Lords to consider in their interventions whether they are discussing the issue of a referendum. That is the issue before us. While I enjoy the historical references to our ancient parliament, I believe that we should try as Members of this House to discipline ourselves into discussing the matter before the House.
I am in a state of utter and total confusion. Even towards the end of the debate I believed that we were talking about whether or not to insert "re" before "establish". Instead, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, went on at great length about unicameral parliaments. The relevance of unicameral parliaments to the insertion of "re" before "establish" totally escapes me, but I am sure that it is a valid point.
My other source of confusion is the following. Before the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, rose to speak I was absolutely convinced that the previous parliament stood adjourned and that was why it was sought to re-establish it. The noble Earl immediately said that it had been dissolved. How one re-establishes a body that has been dissolved I do not know. I do not know whether I am on sure and uncontested historical ground by pointing out that there are no members of that parliament. Those who were members are dead. I may be chancing my arm in the context of some of the contributions to the debate. I look forward to any interventions.
The serious point--virtually all of the contributions come down to this--is that whether we like it or not the kind of parliament proposed in the White Paper--this Bill sets up the referendum--will be fundamentally different in both powers and composition from the parliament that existed prior to 1707, whether that parliament stands dissolved or adjourned. Because of that fundamental difference there is no sensible way in which the new parliament can re-establish the old. That is not a matter of practical reality.
I hope that the noble Earl will not take it amiss if I point out that the more I conducted my personal researches into the parliament of 1707 before coming to the Dispatch Box the more I was persuaded that the workings of the former Scottish Parliament were not a model that we should try to emulate. Certainly, they are not a model of rectitude for the way in which we hope to see Scottish parliamentary business carried out in future.
I have a solution to the problem, which I admit is crude and borne of sheer pragmatism. I propose that we bury the 1707 parliament, adjourned or dissolved, in the shroud of historical obscurity, let it rest and get on with the establishment of a new parliament.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: On 9th January 1707, at the end of a bitter debate about the ratification of Article 22, which does concern us, the Duke of Atholl--no relation--summed up the constitutional position thus:
This is what we are talking about. It is hoped now slightly to reverse that position. The aim of the referendum is the re-establishment of a parliament in Scotland with, admittedly, limited sovereignty.
One must bear in mind that in the past two general elections 22 per cent. of the population voted with the Scottish Nationalist Party. That suggests to me that the Scottish people are very unhappy with the status quo--so unhappy that, rather than modify it, they would rather leave the United Kingdom. However, I believe that the United Kingdom is capable of modification.
I should like to say one word about unicamerality. I believe that if one pursued the Constitutional Convention's blueprint of pre-legislative committees which would consider legislation at the White Paper stage, not merely when it arrived in the form of a Bill, the bicameral function of this House in scrutinising legislation that had barely been looked at by the other end of the building could be incorporated into a unicameral function.
As to the question of dissolution, I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, would produce details of the proclamation. So far the only details available to us on whether or not the parliament was dissolved are those provided by the jottings of the Earl of Mar.
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