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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, as I rise to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, my mind and indeed my body go back to those days of almost high summer when we debated these issues. I believe that we discussed this issue initially in terms of the Referendums Bill (Scotland and Wales) and subsequently in the White Paper debate, at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on our consideration of the view that the Commons took of our
We have spent a considerable amount of time on this issue, and rightly so. I recognise that it is important but it has already had a thorough debate, not just in this House, but by the totality of Parliament. I do not wish, for a moment, to cast any doubt on the propriety of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in bringing forward the Bill at this stage. However, I must point out that we are faced with what is the settled will of Parliament. Parliament has had many opportunities to consider the points raised in the Bill. It has decided them decisively and, I believe, conclusively. There is no new argument, no new evidence, that the noble Lord has brought to support his case that he has not, in essence, used previously. We are revisiting old arguments that have been re-presented in terms of a Second Reading debate.
Perhaps I may deal with a number of issues. The Bill is clearly about the size of the parliament. Quite simply, the noble Lord's overall aim and the principle behind the Bill is, as he freely acknowledges, to break the link between Westminster and Scottish parliamentary constituencies and so fix the size of the Scottish Parliament at 127 members at least. The Government cannot, and do not, support such an aim.
I shall not labour the Government's opposition to this idea. As Your Lordships know, we are committed to maintaining the linkage between the constituencies in the two parliaments. That has been an explicit and long-standing commitment. If noble Lords go back to the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament, they will see that we considered that the integrity of the United Kingdom would be strengthened by common UK and Scottish parliamentary boundaries. We also said that any changes in Westminster constituencies would result in changes to Scottish parliamentary constituencies and might also lead to consequential adjustments to the size of the Scottish Parliament.
The provisions that we have made in the Scotland Act give effect to the provisions outlined in the White Paper. I recognise that that was a departure from the view taken by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, but it was in the White Paper, which was endorsed not only by the Scottish people, but also after a campaign in which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his friends felt able to campaign in favour of a yes, yes vote. So, this has been subject to debate and discussion both by the electorate of Scotland and here in both Houses of Parliament.
Given what has gone before, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that we have not changed our minds over the past four months since the Scotland Act became law because essentially nothing new has occurred; there has been no new evidence and no new arguments. We remain committed to the arrangements that we laid out then. We believe that there are considerable benefits for constituents. We spelt them out previously. Common boundaries will make for representation which is easier to access and will help to ensure that MPs and MSPs are well placed to co-ordinate their constituency work. That should make sure that local interests are properly represented in both places.
As we said in the White Paper and as I have said many times previously, we believe that these arrangements will help to maintain the integrity of the Union. We have embedded the electoral framework of the Scottish Parliament into the electoral framework of the UK Parliament. We want the constituency building blocks to be the same.
After all, that is how we arrived at the current figure of 129 MSPs. It was not a calculation made on the basis of, "How many MSPs do you need to make the Parliament work?" That was not the primary, driving consideration. If it had been, I do not think that the magic number of 129 would have been arrived at--because there is no such magic number of 129; the figure of 129 is derived from the building block of the number of Westminster Scottish constituencies and adding to that the number of regional Members. Indeed, throughout the deliberations of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and elsewhere, good and reasonable schemes produced parliaments ranging from 110 to about 140 or 145 Members, if my memory serves me correctly, and all were developed on a different basis. I do not claim that 129 is the precise number needed. As I have said, that number is the result of using the number of Westminster Scottish constituencies as the building block for the whole scheme.
I am quite interested by the idea adduced by the noble Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Steel, that somehow it will be absolutely dreadful for those MSPs in their first or, indeed, second Session, who are looking over their shoulders, fearing that they will be booted out. That is what elections are all about. Given the likely representation of the party opposite and that of the party diagonally opposite, I should have thought that those noble Lords would welcome the idea of change and of turnover in the composition of the Scottish Parliament. The fact that there will be people in one parliament who will not be in the second or third parliament does not seem to be a sound reason for opposing any form of electoral change.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I believe that he is puzzling us all with his argument. None of us argues with the fact that at elections some people lose. They may not like it but it is the simple fact of the matter. I would not quarrel with what boundary commissions occasionally have to do. But what we have here is 28 people who are not going to lose because of the electorate or even because the Boundary Commission has changed something directly concerned with the Scottish Parliament. They will lose because of the tie-up with another parliament. That is the point and it has nothing to do with the electorate.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, before the noble Lord stands up, can he say what the Government will do when the new parliament has been built and there are, as the noble Lord said, 129 officers, with a committee structure which is running; and it is found that 129 is a reasonable number, as everyone has anticipated, and parliament itself decides that it does not
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, directly. I have already dealt with it on a number of occasions. I have made the point that, notwithstanding the argument and merit of the linkage between the Westminster constituencies and the Scottish parliamentary constituencies, if, in the light of actual experience--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will recognise my words--the Scottish Parliament has a committee structure and a system of operating which requires a larger number of officers than would be allowed as a result of the changes following the reduction in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster, it would clearly be open to the Scottish Parliament to make representations.
I have enough confidence in and recognition of the good faith of any government of the day to indulge in serious and constructive discussion with the Scottish Parliament on that basis, because it is in the interests of both parliaments to ensure that a Scottish Parliament works and is effective. We are not at that stage yet. The government of the day could only reach that judgment in the light of the experience of the parliament and could then properly weigh the merits of maintaining a common constituency system for both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament against an argument about the optimum size of the Scottish Parliament which had been established on the basis of experience.
On that basis I am sure that one could have a constructive discussion between the two parliaments and the two executives. At this stage I cannot make any commitment about the outcome, but it is something which is clearly sensible and can be considered.
It seems to me that we come to two issues. First is the size of the parliament which requires breaking the linkage. Our argument has always been that there is a good and strong case to be made for maintaining the linkage between the Westminster constituencies and the Scottish parliamentary constituencies. That reinforces a sense of identity. It helps to maintain the shared institutions of the Union, which is what we are concerned with in this House.
Secondly, I deal with the timetable for the review. The next Boundary Commission will take place between December 2002 and December 2006. Despite what noble Lords say, reviews take time. Any of those involved in any way in Boundary Commission reviews know the interest that they quite rightly generate locally, not just among political parties but among ordinary citizens. It is not just a matter of using a democratic model, plugging in statistics, punching the right buttons and coming out with lines on a map giving equal size constituencies throughout Scotland without having proper regard to the views and interests of local communities, particularly as this boundary review could well result in a significant reduction in the number of Scottish constituencies. This must be handled with a
We have been here before. We have heard both sets of arguments before. In a longer debate I would have drawn attention to other minor points in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as not being acceptable. But we concentrated on the two broad issues; the size of the Parliament, setting it in stone forever more, and the timing of the review. I have made it clear that the Government are not disposed to accept this Bill as the right to way to deal with the concerns expressed by the noble Lord in his usual eloquent but familiar terms; but following the conventions of this House we will not oppose a Second Reading.
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