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Lord Forbes: I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Gray. They are very important as they concern the proper representation of Scotland in your Lordships' House. The Act of Union was very important. It made provision for 16 Scottish Peers who had received their titles prior to the Act to be elected and to take their seats to represent Scotland in your Lordships' House.
The important point is that the 16 were elected by their fellow Scottish Peers each time there was a new Parliament. I can vouch for the election. It was both simple and dignified. I was first elected to come to your Lordship's House and take my seat in 1955. Therefore I happen to be one of the few still left to have been elected as a Scottish representative Peer to sit in your Lordships' House. I was democratically elected. I did not take my seat by virtue of being a hereditary Peer.
Lord Forbes: The point is that I was democratically elected, apart from the electorate. The Act of Union ensured that Scotland was properly represented in your Lordships' Chamber, and that is even more important today as a result of devolution and the fact that the Union itself is under threat.
The Government have stated time and again that they stand by the Union. On that matter I wholeheartedly agree. The Union is vital. However, we would be deluding ourselves if we failed to recognise that the Union will be under considerable stress, both from devolution and the lack of Scottish representation in your Lordships' House as envisaged by this Bill. Our strength lies in unity. Make no mistake, if Scotland were to separate, that would not only be the greatest disaster for Scotland, but also for England. If Her Majesty's Government seriously wish to preserve the Union, they should accept these amendments dealing with the election of Peers to represent Scotland in your Lordships' House.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: In spite of the fact that Scotland is shortly to have its own Parliament for domestic purposes, there will remain quite a number of reserved matters--too many some of us think--and a number of them will have to be legislated for, discussed and agreed to by both another place and this Chamber.
I have just ceased to be secretary of the Scottish Peers' Association. But before doing so I went through the membership of the association and discovered that out of 147 members, 87 were hereditary and 60 were life Peers. I then went through the life Peers with precisely the question of the adequate representation of Scotland in the future in mind. I discovered that a considerable number rarely, if ever, attended or were so deeply involved in other business in Scotland that it would probably not be possible for them to represent adequately the interests of Scotland in this Chamber. That needs to be carefully looked at by the Government before they kick out all the hereditary Scots Peers, many of whom have been regular in attendance and assiduous in debate.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: It has been said on a number of occasions that those of us in Scotland are well known for keeping the sabbath and anything else we can lay our hands on. That is a commendable principle, but it can be stretched too far. To try and hang on to the hereditary principle in this House when the English are losing theirs, within 10 days of us securing the restoration of our Parliament, is an untenable proposition. For that reason we on these Benches cannot support these amendments.
In moving his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Gray, was absolutely right in his description of the reasons why the 16 elected Peers were part of the Act of Union. But in the real sense in the legislation of the Scotland Act we have been redefining the Act of Union. Therefore the 16 hereditary Peers have no place in that new scheme of things.
Furthermore, I believe I am right in saying that the White Paper and the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, looking at the longer-term of this House, are obliged to consider the whole question of the relationship between this House and the devolved Parliament. In the longer run therefore that issue is already being considered. In relation to the short-run--the transitional House--it is the case that at the last count there were six or seven Members of your Lordships' Chamber standing for election to the Scottish Parliament. Of those I would hazard that at least three have a reasonable prospect of being elected, as it happens one from each party. Therefore the idea that we will lose any link between this House and the Scottish Parliament is simply not true.
The right course to take to enter proper democracy is not to try to revive something that was dispensed with a couple of decades ago. This is not the moment to try to revive a well justified but now archaic principle from the early years of the 18th century.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The last three speakers pointed up a problem which the Government will have to face. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said that, whether or not this amendment is accepted, there will be Scots Peers here to represent Scotland in the interim House. That is true. But the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, gave us the figures--I was not sure of the number of life Peers as compared with the number of hereditary Peers from Scotland--and, as she said, there will be a considerable shortage of Peers to represent the interests of Scotland in discussions in this Chamber as an interim House if the amendment is not accepted.
As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, several of our number are standing for election to the Scots Parliament and some will doubtless get in. They will not have much time to come here. So there will indeed be a shortage. Therefore, if the amendment is not accepted by the Government, can the Minister give us some assurance that there will be an attempt to increase the number of Peers from Scotland in the interim House to ensure that the interests of Scotland are not neglected in that Chamber, the duration of which we still do not know?
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: The Peers' election to which the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, referred, and in which he is still one of the very few Members of this House to have taken part, worked extremely well because everyone knew everybody and everyone knew everything about everybody. As a result, we never had a dud elected; indeed, the "odds and sods" simply did not get elected. We had sensible people who were prepared to do the job. They undertook to do it by offering their names for election. In those days it was a considerable personal sacrifice because there were no
The Earl of Lauderdale: Most of my predecessors came to this place as representative Peers, with one exception upon whom I shall not waste too much time. In fact, in the end, he did not present himself for election. I speak in support of the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Gray. Whatever happens now--that is to say, however well the Scottish Parliament performs and however intelligently Whitehall responds to it (something that I always doubt) there is bound to be a degree of tension between Edinburgh and Whitehall. That is something I deplore, although I am happy to see from press reports that the likelihood at present is that the Nationalists will not do very well in the coming elections in Scotland. Thank God!
There is bound to be some tension willy-nilly between Edinburgh and Whitehall. It is greatly in Scotland's and in Britain's interests that the Scottish peerage should contain representatives within earshot of Whitehall. Therefore, I support my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Monro of Langholm: We are most grateful to my noble friend Lord Gray for tabling the amendment because it has given us the chance to express a view upon the points so nobly put by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. After the new Parliament comes into being, I know that there will be much less legislation going through this place than has been the case in the past as regards Scotland. Indeed, it will only be legislation on foreign affairs, defence and one or two other matters that are for this Chamber rather than the Scottish Parliament.
However, the question which comes to my mind is whether or not there will be sufficient Scottish based life Peers to carry out the work in this Chamber. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, indicated the number involved. In fact, one could boil it down to the fact that about 5 per cent of the Chamber would be life Peers coming from Scotland, which is not a large number.
I was not impressed by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I say that because it is to be hoped that there will be one or two life Peers returning here who will also be members of the new Scottish Parliament. But if the polls are right and the overall majorities one way or another are going to be so tight, I do not suppose that any member of the new Scottish Parliament will be able to leave Edinburgh with a safe conscience--certainly not if the whipping system has to be as severe there as it has been in the other place in the past.
Therefore, when the Minister replies to the debate, perhaps he will indicate how we can be certain that there will be a sufficient number of Scottish life Peers to look after the interests of Scotland, in conjunction with the new Scottish Parliament. After all, they will be complementary and will not be opposing each other. It is no use saying, "Oh, yes, there are bound to be enough
How can we be certain that there will be a sufficient number of Peers from Scotland; and, indeed, from Wales and Northern Ireland? How can we be sure that other aspects of the life of this United Kingdom will be expressed here by Peers from those countries? It is up to the Government Front Bench to indicate what the position will be. Then, if the Minister's explanations are unsatisfactory, we can decide whether to take the matter further. My noble friend Lord Gray has certainly given us an opportunity to discuss the old election system of the Scottish Peers which worked exceptionally well. But, in the first instance, we want to know how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be represented sufficiently in this Chamber so as to satisfy those countries that they are being well looked after in the House of Lords or in its successor.
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