|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Sempill: My Lords, I, too, strongly support this group of amendments. Since I was last in your Lordships' House I have been following the advice of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and have been actively pursuing my goal of winning a seat in the new Scottish parliament. That has enabled me to visit many doorsteps and speak to many people. In addition, I have taken opportunities to attend various forums.
I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, in his place because as Scottish Minister for Trade and Industry he recently addressed such a forum. It was held on Monday by the Scottish Council Foundation and I found the day most interesting. It comprised more than 100 Scottish businessmen, most from small businesses. Unfortunately, the noble Lord had to leave after his address--his keynote speech--and missed some of the later discussions.
Having attended various such forums and had many doorstep conversations, I wish to make the following points. I maintain that there is a high expectation of what the parliament will deliver, but underlying that is a strong mood of uncertainty. The potential cut in numbers is a divisive issue and I, too, strongly recommend the Government to look at it carefully.
The Scottish media are describing Scottish representatives in the other place as being marginalised. I maintain that the constituency MSPs will have stronger relationships with the electorate. The Scottish electorate will expect a great deal more from their MSPs than they have from their Westminster MPs purely and simply because they will be on their doorsteps and ready and available to be spoken to. Following from discussions earlier today, I point out that there will be substantially more discussion in a unicameral chamber. I maintain that if the committee consultative system is to be run there must be a minimum of 120 members. It is on that issue that I underline my support for this group of amendments.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the nationalists will see the move as an opportunity because they will offer the one thing that it will create--greater representation by going independent. That must be taken into consideration.
Finally, I make a gardening analogy. Plants when put into the ground take time to root. Heavy pruning can have two results, but certainly we could end up with a plant which has many more thorns than flowers. I caution the Government that if there were ever a time to stay with 129 members it is now.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the success of the devolution project will depend on the confidence of the Scottish people. That confidence will come from the achievement of the correct level of autonomy for Scotland in the medium term. I expect that more powers will be sought by the Scottish people and their parliament and that the list of reserved matters will be reduced over the years. While recognising that there is a paradoxical demand in Scotland for political autonomy and to remain British, I believe that the Scottish parliament will become more busy than I first predicted. In that circumstance, it will be necessary to retain all 129 members to carry out the increase in work. I suspect that the original Liberal Democrat proposal for 145 members will come to be seen as correct. However, that was not the agreement reached.
Any attempt to reduce the membership in the near future will be placed dangerously as a gift at the feet of those with a separatist agenda and no doubt a parliament with abundantly adequate membership.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the grouping is complex and I do not complain about it. It contains four or five sub-groups, all of which relate to the same issue. I am talking to the group in my name, which starts with Amendment No. 4. However, my amendments and those in the group tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, address the same issue, as do those in the group tabled by my noble friend Lord Rowallan.
I have a suspicion that they tabled the amendment knowing that it was totally unnecessary, especially given the next three words, because they wanted to move this group ahead of mine. Perhaps that is an evil suspicion which shows that I have not understood what consensual politics are about. But I have no doubt that they want it to be consensual enough for me to marshal my forces in the Lobby with them a little later tonight. Perhaps they should have been a little less confrontational.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not a convert to non-confrontational politics. I am happily in confrontational politics; it is the noble Lord and his party who want non-confrontational politics.
The point about the two groups--that is, Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22 in the name of the Liberal Democrats, 4, 7, 10 to 15 and 19 which are in my name, and 16 to 18 and 20 in the name of my noble friend Lord Rowallan--is that they address the problem in which the Government are caught. The provision comes from Holy Grail and it is unfortunate that no one noticed a contradiction. Page 13 of the White Paper states:
Unfortunately for the Government, the Holy Grail later states that members of the Scottish parliament will be elected for each of the current Westminster constituencies. So they got caught in the trap that inevitably they must either uncouple the Scottish members of parliament from the Westminster constituencies or they must reduce the number of Scottish members of parliament. That is the dilemma that faces the Government and at the moment they are not prepared to resolve it.
However, we know that the Scottish Office is keen to resolve the issue and understands the political points. There is a point about the daftness of building a parliament for 129 members and reducing the number to 108 three or four years down the line. There is also a daftness about giving the Scottish National Party such
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from the Scotsman in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. An article appeared in that newspaper in the summer by Severin Carrell and Peter MacMahon, its political correspondents. It says this--and it is the problem that the Government have--
Therefore, I cannot think of anything dafter for the Government to do than to say to this parliament, "You can start off with 129 members, but when the House of Commons inevitably reduces that number to about 58 Scottish members, thanks to Clause 82 of the Bill, your numbers will be reduced in a similar manner--in fact, even more so, because you have to lose another seven to keep the balance of proportionality right".
I believe that that is straightforwardly bad politics. Why should I be trying to save the Labour Government from themselves? As I mentioned earlier this afternoon, the problem is that I live in Scotland so I have to take the castor oil along with the Government--I do not particularly want to--and see the Scottish National Party run my country and move it to independence and break up the Union. Therefore, I hope that the Government are going to listen and amend the Bill accordingly because nothing short of that will do.
There are two other groups of amendments. Amendment No. 11 is a particular hobby-horse of mine. I shall not rehearse it because I shall get an opportunity later to do so. When the Scottish parliamentary boundary commission makes up the seats for the Scottish parliament, it ought to take more account of the
Out in the country, for example, the seat of Ross, Skye and Inverness West held by the Liberal Democrats has 56,000 constituents, which is just above the quota. However, it is a huge seat in one geographical area. Even bigger at 66,500 constituents is Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber. There is also the constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley with 66,500 constituents. There are others like postage stamps such as Baillieston with 49,000 constituents; Shettleston with 48,000 and Hamilton South with 47,000. They exist in areas where one could walk from one end to the other without breaking sweat.
I shall not even be tempted to speculate because I annoyed the Government Benches when I did so on the last occasion. The amazing fact is that most of the pocket handkerchief constituencies are in West Central Scotland and for a moment I cannot think why that should be. That deals with Amendment No. 11.
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are rather different. I have to say to the Liberal Democrats that I cannot support Amendment No. 24. The noble Lord did not speak to it, I believe, but it states that if the Government were to go ahead with the proposal and reduce the number of members of the Scottish parliament by 14 first-past-the-post members, they would then have to increase the number of top-up members from 56 to 70. That means that there would be more top-up members than first-past-the-post members. Personally, I do not approve of that. Given the d'Hondt formula and the regions, the Government have probably got it about right at seven additional members per region. If one seeks to achieve proportionality that is probably about the best number. It does not work in every case, but it does in most. It is certainly hugely better than the four additional members allowed in Wales, which is an inadequate number of top-ups. If one has too many top-ups the parliament becomes largely composed of people who do not represent constituents. My noble friend Lord Sempill made a very valid point in that respect.
Your Lordships know that I do not particularly approve of top-ups or any form of fiddled voting, but if we are to have them then we must keep them in decent proportion. I believe that the Government have got that proportion about right and therefore I could not vote in favour of the Liberal Democrat amendment. I assume that it is something of a backstop to the other amendments.
I do not know how your Lordships and the Government are going to disentangle the complexity of the amendments. I re-echo the position that Scottish Office Ministers have clearly implied; namely, that this is a smoking gun in the body politic in Scotland. If the
Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by being uncharacteristically hypothetical. It may help your Lordships, in considering these amendments, which are likely to result in Divisions, that if Amendment No. 3 is agreed to on a Division the Government will accept that decision as applying also to Amendments Nos. 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22. If Amendment No. 4 is agreed to on Division the Government will accept that decision as applying also to Amendments Nos. 7, 10 and 12 to 15. I hope that indicates the structure within which we shall be making decisions this evening.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has indicated, these amendments cover a rather complex range of issues. We come down to the question of size of the parliament. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. He is not in his place, but he indicated at a very early stage that he thought that this was a matter of considerable importance and he wished to bring it back for a decision today at Report stage. I also freely recognise the issue of principle which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, raised. He is as close to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as he is ever likely to get on that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has made clear his support for the proposition that the size of the parliament should be fixed. If I am unable to give noble Lords the answer they would like, I hope that they will not think it is because we have somehow dismissed the case in some cavalier way. We have not. We have looked at the matter thoroughly, but come to a different view from those put forward by your Lordships who spoke earlier. I shall try to explain how we have reached our view.
Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, closely resemble amendments which the House considered at Committee stage. They seek to break the link between constituencies for the UK Parliament and those for the Scottish parliament. During that earlier debate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, supported the Liberal Democrats and has tabled amendments to achieve a similar end. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, again returns to the same theme. His amendments are intended to break the link but have an interesting twist by amending the rules under which the Boundary Commission is to work. It would fix for all time the number of members of the Scottish parliament at 129.
As I have indicated, we have approached this somewhat differently. Our starting point is the priority we give to maintaining the link between Westminster and the Scottish parliament constituencies. That is a thread that ran throughout the discussions in the constitutional convention and in the proposals contained in the White Paper.
I have difficulty with the accusation in this debate that the Government have somehow reneged on a commitment they gave, a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I dispute that. The Government have in no way reneged but have maintained a consistent position throughout.
First, let us look at the constitutional convention. The constitutional convention's number was 129. That is not some magic number; you would have to be quite perverse to pull down 129, of all numbers, as somehow the ideal number for the size of the Scottish parliament. There was a process--an argument--that developed the figure of 129. It was quite simple. The starting point was the Westminster constituencies--the 72 Westminster constituencies presently existing--plus the splitting of Orkney and Shetland, which gave 73, and then the proportional factor of seven additional seats for the eight regional groupings. But the fundamental point, the driver to arrive at 129, was the number of Westminster constituencies. That has always been there.
I entirely accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The possibility--indeed the probability--of a reduction in the size of the Scottish parliament is made absolutely explicit in the White Paper. There is no reneging. I take great exception to the idea that we are somehow pulling out this proposal in a duplicitous manner.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page