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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not know which of us will be embarrassed the more, but I agree absolutely with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has just said on both counts. If the Government have accepted that the Scottish quota must move closer to the English quota, or even the UK quota, and that it will result in a redrawing of the Scottish constituency boundaries to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament, frankly the sooner it is done the better. I hope that the Government do not say that it will take a long time to redraw 72 constituency boundaries. I pick out the noble Lord, Lord Desai, partly because he is present and partly because he is such an expert in this matter. I believe that the noble Lord and I could, at great salary and with a few calculators and some demography, easily draw up decent constituency boundaries within about three months. They would not be biased because the noble Lord and I would ensure that they were not. That is the easiest task under the sun. I can never understand why such a meal is made of the drawing and redrawing of
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am extremely worried that my noble friend is about to commit an act of great political incorrectness. As I understand it, the chairman of the Boundary Commission for Scotland is Lady Cosgrove. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is more than capable of achieving such a task within a short space of time. But knowing Lady Cosgrove and her ability to drive things forward, I am sure that she could do it within an appropriate period.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am delighted to hear my noble friend's reference to Lady Cosgrove. I was relying on the track record of previous boundary commissions which appear to have taken years and failed to get their mathematics right. However, that is an issue to which we shall turn shortly. I do not believe that this is a big problem. With determination it can still be done, but it would have been easier to achieve the objective had the process been started some months ago.
The point that my noble friend Lord Rowallan makes in his amendment, and that other Members of the Committee have made, is that if the Government accept that the number of Scottish Members at the other place should be reduced in recognition of the Scottish parliament, then that should happen at the next election. I am absolutely clear about that.
I want to re-echo the second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood: the idea that that diminution in the number of Members will somehow trigger a similar decline in the number of members of the Scottish parliament is about the daftest proposal that could be brought up. One hundred and twenty-nine members of the Scottish parliament will be asked to look around and say to themselves, "Am I to be one of the 21 or not?". Nothing could be worse from the point of view of starting off the parliament.
This is one of the most important issues in the Bill so far as concerns the future relationship of the Scottish parliament to the UK parliament. I hope that the Government have reflected on the matter over the Recess. It would be nice were they to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and myself and tell us that they have reconsidered this matter and will detach the membership of the Scottish parliament from membership of the other place, but I am not going to hold my breath. I hope that we hear some common sense about when we will have this reduction in Scottish Members of the other place. If we are going to have it, let us have it at the next election.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: Does the Minister accept that there is a distinction to be drawn between the number of members of the Scottish parliament and the number of Scottish Members of Parliament in the
That is especially relevant for the Scottish parliament. If it is to make a success when it begins, to stop that continuity of provision and reduce the number of members would be a blow to the morale of the Scots parliament. It may be a different matter for Westminster where the West Lothian question still persists. I hope that the Minister will press the case for Scottish Members of Parliament in the Scots parliament and not concede too easily.
Lord Sewel: In this debate we have ranged a little beyond the terms of the amendment. We have again raised the issue of the relationship between the size of the Scottish parliament and the size of Scottish representation at Westminster. We dealt with that point earlier in the Committee's deliberations, and no doubt we will return to it on Report. I think that we will leave it until then.
Clause 81 has two main purposes. First, it removes the requirement for Scotland to have a minimum of 71 seats at Westminster. Secondly, it provides that Orkney and Shetland cannot be included in a Westminster constituency which also includes part of some other local authority area. That is to ensure that Orkney and Shetland will each form a separate constituency in the Scottish parliament as provided in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Bill.
For the sake of clarity, I should deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Munro. It is not the intention that Orkney and Shetland should be split for the purposes of representation at Westminster. It will remain the constituency as it is. The reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster is in recognition of the fact that once the Scottish parliament is established Westminster will no longer be the forum for scrutinising much of Scotland's domestic legislation, and the Government have accepted that it is no longer possible to justify the level of representation that Scotland has enjoyed in the other place over the years.
Clause 81 delivers a stable constitutional settlement and meets our commitment in the White Paper to provide independent representation for Orkney and the Shetland Islands within the Scottish parliament.
I shall now turn to the amendments, beginning with those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and the amendment to Amendment No. 289 tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Ellenborough. The Government cannot support Amendment No. 289 or even its revised form, Amendment No. 289A. We accept
Anybody can sit down and draw lines on a map using a calculator to come up with some form of equal mathematical quota for constituencies, but in this area we have always proceeded on the basis of representation and inquiries, which, quite rightly, enable the public and other interested bodies to make representations about the Boundary Commission's initial views. That provision would have to be retained for the job to be done properly, and I suspect that it would require primary legislation to change the procedure that has been adopted heretofore by the Boundary Commission in the way it has proposed parliamentary boundaries.
It is for the commission to decide how it conducts its reviews within the provisions of the Parliamentary Constituency Act 1986, but under its current statutory timetable the earliest it could report would be December 2002. A major review, such as the next one will be, will take at least three years to complete, and the noble Lords' amendment would require the Boundary Commission to complete its review by the first meeting of the Scottish parliament or three months after it; in other words by August 1999. That represents an impossible timetable. The commission would be forced to carry out a review with indecent and improper haste.
If the amendments were made they would ride roughshod over any idea of allowing adequate public response and consultation and the holding of inquiries. I simply do not believe that such a cavalier attitude can be justified in relation to such a sensitive matter. It cannot be right. On that basis, I urge the noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.
Lord Monson: I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Monro, Lord Steel and Lord Mackay, for their support. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, reducing over-representation is not a complete answer to the West Lothian problem but it does help to some extent. The Minister has confirmed that the Government are committed to reducing Scottish representation to English levels or thereabouts. The question is when.
With his great mathematical expertise, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has assured us that it could be done relatively quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, has pointed out that if something is not done relatively quickly--the amendment we have put forward may be a little too extreme--Scotland could be over-represented by 25 per cent. up until the year 2007. By that time the Scottish parliament will have been in existence for eight years. That seems to me totally unacceptable.