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I contend that when the White Paper was studied by Scots--and I am sure that a great many Scots did study it--they took the decision to vote on the referendum in Scotland. They did not decide to vote on individual paragraphs or details but, rather, they decided to vote on the broad proposal that they wanted devolution in Scotland. They looked to us in this House and another place to make sure that we got the detail right. I am sure that there are an equally large number of Scots who did not read the White Paper and for whom all of this has come as a very nasty surprise.
I believe that I have put the argument as cogently as I can. Nothing that the Government have said at any stage of this Bill has been able to refute it. However, there are two other arguments which I have no doubt the Minister will seek to deploy. They are the constitutional arguments.
The first is that the Bill will be lost. It has always seemed to me that there are three great parliamentary falsehoods. The first is, "We promise to consult". At an early stage of this Bill, my honourable friend in another place thought that that was precisely what the Government had said they would do. Nothing came of it. No consultation took place and nothing was put forward.
The second argument is, "This is a wrecking amendment". I do not seriously believe that anybody can describe this as a wrecking amendment. These are highly practical, sensible and reasonable amendments to which your Lordships clearly agreed. No one can seriously say that they are designed to wreck the Bill. It is the reverse: they will strengthen it.
The third argument is that it is so late in the Session that the Bill will be lost. The Bill will not be lost. The Government have already pencilled in time for it tomorrow. I do not believe that the Government can hold that gun to my head. That is a gun which should be held more properly at the heads of the Government's business managers.
Another constitutional argument is that we are an unelected Chamber and we should not frustrate the will of the people. I take that far more seriously. I agree with both those statements. We are indeed unelected and the sooner this is an elected upper Chamber the better. I ask the Government to get on with that because they have my full support.
More important, it is quite clear from the huge mailbag that I have received and from the comments that I have heard that there is widespread, almost wholehearted support, for these amendments throughout Scotland. I do not receive a lot of mail but I have never received such a postbag and from such diverse sources. Somebody somewhere, rather uncharitably, gave out the telephone number for our Liberal Democrat Whips Office with the result that yesterday the telephone was jammed and no business took place. I do not accuse the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, of doing that, much as I should love to. We have received tremendous support from all quarters.
I know that there is sympathy throughout Scotland for what we propose and for what I am asking your Lordships to insist on. On Report I said that someone somewhere, I did not know who or where, was against this because it seemed to me that there was sympathy for this everywhere, including in the Scottish Office. A noble Lord somewhere suggested that the voice against my proposal must be No. 10. It certainly seems that this is a diktat from No. 10. If that is the case--and I have never seen it refuted anywhere--it is a clear abuse of democracy when one man can use a vast mandate in the other place to push through something that is clearly against the will of the Scottish people. I do not think that it is this House which is being undemocratic.
I do not have behind me legions at my command; indeed, only a cohort of committed believers. I seek through my inadequate advocacy to persuade noble Lords on all sides of the House to follow me into the Division Lobby. I wish that my noble friend Lord Steel were here to help because he would have done it far better than I can. At one stage I even wished that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, had done it as he has enjoyed such success. However, there are limits and I could not quite go that far.
In the final analysis, imperfectly as I have articulated the case, I submit that it is unanswerable. We may only have a cohort compared to the legions opposite and beside us, but perhaps I may remind the Government that we are a cohort which, like Blucher at Waterloo, has come to the assistance of the thin red line opposite on many occasions--
Viscount Thurso: All we ask, my Lords, is that the Government accept these reasonable, practical and widely-supported amendments. I do not lightly ask your Lordships to insist, because I understand the gravity involved. I have to tell the Government that, even at this late stage, I would not insist if they were to give me any concession. Indeed, my honourable friends in another place were actually under the impression this morning that they were going to be offered a concession which
As I said, if any concession were offered, I would not insist. However, in the light of that complete stonewall from the Government I shall have no option but to ask your Lordships to insist on this important amendment.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I listened with great care to the noble Viscount who has just spoken. I believe that there are considerable merits in many of the arguments that he has put forward. I should mention that I am a prospective candidate for the Scottish parliament and also that I support the arguments on the subject put forward by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish at an earlier stage.
There are two key points involved. The first is that the reduction of MSPs by a substantial number from 129 to about 108 immediately after the creation of the Scottish parliament, or shortly thereafter, will mean a further upheaval and will be an unsettling start. However, there is also a key political point. The average size of constituencies in Edinburgh, for example, is about 51,000, but the average size in the west central belt is about 62,000. Therefore, if the Boundary Commission aims for parity, the Labour Party will effectively bear the brunt of the reforms which take place and the reduction in numbers. It may well be that the present stance of the Labour Front Bench is contrary to the political interests of its own party.
However, I believe that it would be wrong for the Conservative Party to seek to imperil the progress of the Bill at this stage when the House of Commons has rejected this particular amendment by a very large majority and when there has been a referendum result which has, by an overwhelming majority, shown what is believed to be the settled will of the Scots people.
The noble Viscount mentioned Blucher at Waterloo. I have to remind him that it was Wellington who, on the eve of the Great Reform Bill, said that he knew when it was necessary to withdraw. Although this Bill has not given rise to the same passions aroused by the Great Reform Bill, I believe that the Conservative Party would be wise to take heed of and follow the good advice of the Duke of Wellington on that occasion.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, it is most disappointing that this issue of the number of MSPs should be our final sticking point in the otherwise welcome and historic Scotland Bill. It is particularly galling that the Government have chosen this path, in the mistaken belief that the people of Scotland want or, worse, need to have the UK connection thrust down their throats. How the Government can believe that this issue of the Union is more important than the ability to carry out successful scrutiny of legislation is beyond comprehension.
During the earlier stages of this Bill, the need for a second chamber was debated. It was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that the parliament would evolve sufficient stages of scrutiny to cover for its unicameral nature. It was the process of pre-legislative scrutiny that was held up as the solution to concern about depth of scrutiny. There can be no doubt that pre-legislative scrutiny will use up plenty of manpower--or MSP power--as the Select Committees set off to take part in the consultation processes, which, in this UK Parliament, would be thought of as being part of the White Paper stage of a Bill.
As there will be a presiding officer team of four and a Scottish executive of 18--and, no doubt, one or two others--the number of MSPs available for the pre-legislative task will be limited enough; namely, to a maximum of 107 Back-Benchers. That would be severely limited if there were to be only 86 available. The chances of there being a sufficient range of experience and interests becomes doubtful.
Scotland has sought home rule because the people found the old United Kingdom to be dominated by a majority from elsewhere. It appears that this desire to dominate is still deeply embedded in government thinking. It even extends to the advice given by the Cabinet to the BBC about whether we should have United Kingdom or Scottish news at 6 o'clock.
Further, this reduction in MSPs will not mesh in with the welcome electoral reform proposals of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. The two different systems of representation will not mesh together. The Government's insistence on a reduced number of MSPs can also be portrayed as playing into the hands of the SNP, which can certainly offer generous and ample representation in a sovereign parliament. I have to support my noble friend's Motion.
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