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Lord Sewel: That is a false accusation if ever there was one. I offered the view that the opportunity was available earlier in the day for amendments to be grouped by agreement. I received no requests--I do not believe that the usual channels received any requests--
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When noble Lords want amendments to be grouped, unless the Government have major difficulty in turning the page and referring to another brief, they are usually allowed to do it. I would have been very greatly helped had that occurred in this case. This is one of the major faults of the Bill to which we want to find a solution. We have heard everything that is thought to be wrong about my noble friend's amendment, which I believe is a possible solution. However, I see that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has another good idea. Can we not deal with it now?
Lord Steel of Aikwood: The Government are responsible for grouping amendments. I believe I am right in saying that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was tabled after my amendment which appears later in the Marshalled List. I did not immediately notice that it dealt with much the same subject. They should have been grouped together. But I believe that my amendment which comes later offers a much more logical solution and does not trespass on what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has rightly referred to as the blurring of responsibilities as between Scottish and UK Ministers. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes me to pursue my amendment now. I am quite happy to wait until later.
I do not agree with the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, about the president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland. Both he and the chairman of the hill livestock committee are perfectly entitled to stand as candidates. It is not without precedent. I suspect the reason why the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is annoyed is that the people of Argyll and Bute have decided to dispense with his services and are likely to embrace the services of Mr. George Lyon. That appears to be more down to his temper than anything else.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I shall check but I am fairly certain that I am correct in what I say. I do not want to name names and get it wrong. I have someone in mind who is also a member of my party. The fact is that he was elected president by his own members, who knew of his political allegiance. Some of us believe that Scottish Ministers attending European Council meetings will enhance the voice of Scotland in Europe, not detract from it. They will not be tag-end Charlies to UK delegations but will have their own status as Ministers of the Scottish parliament. I believe that that is a better solution. I shall reserve my fire until I come to my own amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I see that the Minister has completed his remarks. I shall sum up and decide what to do with my amendment. I believe that there is little difference between the president and the chairman of the hill livestock committee. Mr. Scott, as chairman of the hill livestock committee, considered very seriously whether or not the two offices were compatible. A year ago he would not have considered that they were compatible and would have resigned as chairman. He did not resign as chairman simply because the president had already introduced politics into the senior offices of the NFU. This is a serious matter and I look forward to hearing about the precedents to which the noble Lord has alluded. I have spoken to the immediate past three presidents, none of whom was in any doubt that they should not be members of or be active in any political party while they held the presidency of an organisation whose constitution said that it should be non-political. But that is another matter. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats are not political.
Interestingly enough, the Minister has helped me, and for that I am grateful. He appreciates that this amendment does not seek to wreck anything. Like my noble friend Lord Sanderson, as someone who has been involved in these negotiations I am extremely concerned that the important role that Scottish fisheries Ministers, agricultural Ministers and other Ministers--for example, industry Ministers--play in these issues should continue after devolution.
I am grateful to the Minister for answering a question that the Government failed to answer in relation to the Government of Wales Bill both in the other place and in this Chamber; namely, whether it would be in order for Members to ask UK government Ministers questions on devolved matters. The Minister has made an interesting revelation which I failed to extract from the two Ministers who dealt with the Government of Wales Bill.
Lord Sewel: For the avoidance of doubt, I was very careful in what I said. It would be perfectly proper and reasonable for a Scottish Member of Parliament and a Member of this House to ask a UK Minister questions on the outcome of Council meetings; for example, in relation to tax or dairy quotas.
Viscount Thurso: We discussed this matter when considering Clause 29. I believe that at that time the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, gave us the benefit of his reminiscences of the period during which the Stormont Parliament was in operation. He recounted how the Table Clerk next door would tell Northern Ireland Members what questions they could and could not ask. I thought that the Government had given us an assurance that that would be the convention with regard to the devolved parliaments. Therefore, the vast majority of questions, and certainly all questions with regard to devolved matters, would be, by convention, ultra vires in this Parliament.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Viscount for renewing my concerns about this issue, as he has just done. The Clerks in the other place and, indeed, the Clerks here are mindful of the vires of questions. The Speaker is also mindful, as seen the other day when someone was pulled up for asking the Prime Minister a question about the Scottish National Party, for which the Prime Minister, of course, has no responsibility. The Speaker actually asked the questioner to resume his seat and said it would be a long time before he was called again, so it did not do him any good being "on message" with the Labour Party; he will not be "on message" for some considerable time, I gather.
The noble Viscount re-emphasised my worry. In fact, the Minister has not helped me either. The point is that before Ministers go to Council meetings there are often debates. After their return there are debates and there are questions. What I am concerned about is whether Scottish MPs and, indeed, Members of your Lordships' House will be able to take a full part in those debates and questions on matters relating to any subject which has been devolved but which comes within the ambit of one or other of the Council of Ministers of the European Union. Agriculture and fisheries are key subjects. For a while I had thought that the Minister was helping me. However, I am not sure that the noble Viscount has not dashed the lifebelt away from under me. I am still as concerned as I was.
I shall read what the Minister said. Perhaps he can read it as well and, if he cares, we have an opportunity for clarification later this evening, which means that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, is useful, and we also have the long Summer Recess during which the Minister can correspond with me. He can also, perhaps, correspond with me about the Treaty of Amsterdam, because that argument was not used by the two Welsh Ministers. The question, therefore, is which Ministers are giving the correct steer. Perhaps I can have a letter about that; some noble Lords might be interested.
Lord Sewel: Perhaps I can help finally to put this particular matter to bed. It starts from the basis that the conduct of foreign relations, including EU negotiations, is a reserved matter. That is the starting-off point. UK Ministers, therefore, can properly be made accountable to the Westminster Parliament for that, even when the content affects devolved matters. They are answerable to all Members of the Westminster Parliament.
Viscount Thurso: Before the noble Lord sits down, I asked him a specific question and he did not answer it. I completely accept what he has just said in relation to foreign affairs. That was not my question. My question was whether the summation I gave and the
Lord Sewel: We are talking about Europe, and at the moment I am happy to clarify the position about Europe. I shall be more than happy to clarify other positions at later stages.
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