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5.30 pm

On the First or Chief Minister, what will happen when a Secretary of State from a different party uses powers in clause 33 to direct the Scottish Parliament that a Bill must be cancelled or that a Bill that it does not want must be introduced? Without a clear definition of the relationship between the First Minister and the Secretary of State, how would Members of the Scottish Parliament feel if the Secretary of State told the First or Chief Minister, "I am sorry that law you passed has to be cancelled, scrubbed, finished," or, "Whether you like it or not, I am going to demand that you pass this law."?

Secondly, there is the position of the Secretary of State. I see that one hon. Member is smiling, but it is a serious situation: hon. Members know that problems could arise if the First or Chief Minister and the Secretary of State came from different parties. We must consider the status of the First Minister compared with that of the Secretary of State. The Bill envisages a direct relationship between the devolved Administration and the sovereign. That presumably means that the Secretary of State is no longer the sovereign's representative in Scotland.

The new Chief Minister will apparently have substantial powers. He will be the head of the Scottish Executive and Keeper of the Scottish Seal. He will have a direct relationship with the sovereign in the appointment of Ministers, junior Ministers, law officers, sheriffs and judges of the Court of Session, other than the Lord President, and the Lord Justice Clerk, in whose appointment he has a role directly with the Prime Minister.

Hon. Members think that everything will be great, but, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West said, the people of Scotland have been misled about the powers of the new assembly. The impression was given that its powers would be much greater. There will be problems with money because the costs of the new Parliament will come off the money that is already there. There will be trouble and difficulties. That is why it is important to clarify the role of the person in charge.

"First Minister" is not appropriate for a democratic assembly. What is wrong with "Chief Minister"? That achieves separation from the titles of "Prime Minister" and "Secretary of State". "Chief Minister" is a step forward. I hope that the Secretary of State will think carefully about my suggestion, which I make helpfully. I hope that he will play a part in not going along with what seems to be the general feeling in this place that everything will be great--that life will be a bed of roses and better in every respect for the people of Scotland.

As a former Scottish Member who now has no right to represent the people of Scotland directly but cares greatly about Scotland and its people, I hope that hon. Members know that what they think will be exciting and innovative could well turn out to be an horrendous democratic mess.

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It could result in deterioration of services for Scotland and widespread conflict between the government in Edinburgh and the Administration in Westminster, especially if different parties are in charge. I hope that hon. Members will approach the Bill asking how they can try to resolve problems, not make them worse.

While I have been delighted at some of the contributions from both Government and Opposition Members, I have been horrified by Liberal Democrats' contributions, such as their comments yesterday about the need for plenty of farmers in the Scottish assembly to ensure that agriculture is well represented. I hope that the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that the Scottish Parliament will not control agriculture, and that to a large degree, this Parliament does not, either. I hope that the Government will accept my excellent, helpful and constructive suggestion in amendment No. 85, which is also supported by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd).

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I intend to support amendment No. 85 as a solution to the problem of the name, despite the intemperate contribution of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East(Sir T. Taylor), who tabled it. He sought to portray the parliamentary process as determined by conflict, which it need not be.

Using the title "chief" rather than another does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that it should be a man. Many of the old Scottish clans, which used the word, "chief", were matriarchal rather than using the male line. "Chief Minister" resolves the problem. "First Minister" suggests that it is something less than the Prime Minister, when, in the Parliament of Scotland, that Minister will be the most important and should be called "Chief Minister". In a Scottish context, we should think about that seriously.

I reject the title "premier" because, like it or not, it is a French word. It has come into common usage. Sadly, as was pointed out earlier, the correct spelling of the word "estaite" has fallen out of use in English parliamentary language. "Premier" gives rise to problems, some of which are funny. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) referred to the premier division, although it is actually the premier league. If there were a Division in the House, would we be in the Premier Division or the Opposition Division, with the premier or against the premier? The word would be the butt of many jokes. It would not be a good solution.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, in Australia "premier" is a state title. I went to Australia recently with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. There, they clearly distinguish between the premier of a state and the Prime Minister of the country.

On the word "estaite", the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) could have been a little bit more Scottish in his interpretation, and used the word "commonwealth". "Common weal" is the modern word "commonwealth". The concept of corporation is not attractive. We should have had another word. Commonwealth would have been appropriate. It would be wholly appropriate if the Scottish Parliament wished to refer to the common weal of the body.

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There are many things to be debated, but I do not think that this is the Chamber that should decide them. That is the fundamental point. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) is right to say that it should be left to the Scottish Parliament to decide how it sees itself, how it reflects the will of the people, how the people see it and how it is to take on the decisions and wishes of the people of Scotland. Amendment No. 36 is about the powers of the Parliament.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East made an unnecessarily divisive speech. He argued that, should another party ever control this Parliament, the Secretary of State would wish to overrule the Parliament of Scotland. That shows that he has not understood the purpose of the Scottish Parliament, which is to embody in a parliamentary institution the will of the people and to show respect to the people. In contrast to what happened in the past 18 years--and unlike the former Member for Stirling--the Secretary of State would have to show respect for the will of the people as set out in the Bills before the Scottish Parliament.

That would be true regardless of party. If was not, it would be a recipe for the final break-up of the Union. If we had not devised the Bill and taken this route, the behaviour of the Conservatives over the past 18 years would have had only one outcome: the people of Scotland would have had to leave this United Kingdom to get respect. In this Parliament, we must show that respect.

I hope that hon. Members will reject amendment No. 196 because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East so well put it, it is an unnecessary belt and braces, a veritable straitjacket for the Parliament. If it is necessary in the Parliament that people respect the other parties and accept votes decided by majority, the people will respect the democratic process. A two-thirds majority is not needed to ensure that the people adhere to the directions of the people who will look after the Parliament.

You are currently chairing this Committee, Mr. Lord. It does not matter that you may have been selected to serve by a process carried out behind closed doors; the fact is that when people are chosen to sit in the Chair, Members of Parliament show them the respect they deserve. I hope that the Government will, in some way, take on board amendment No. 36 and leave to the Scottish Parliament the powers that will enable it to take the final decision on matters of symbolic importance.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish): I must comment first on the wholly remarkable contribution made by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East(Sir T. Taylor). It is useful to remember that something described as an horrendous democratic mess and codswallop is based on 1.8 million Scots supporting the proposals in a referendum--that is 74 per cent. of the 60 per cent. of Scots who took the trouble to vote. It is important to put the Bill into the wider context of that endorsement.

I recognise and understand the arguments advanced in respect of amendments Nos. 13 to 15. On the face of it, there are attractions in allowing the Parliament to decide for itself what it wishes to call its Presiding Officer, the First Minister, the Scottish Executive and the Clerk. However, the Government believe that consistency and certainty are essential for the Bill and for future

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legislation. The titles proposed are clear and unambiguous and suit the purpose. Therefore, I am not inclined to accept those amendments.

"Presiding Officer" was the title used in the White Paper "Scotland's Parliament". The title accurately describes the role of the individual concerned, even though it may lack the poetic aspects of "Speaker", which is used in this House.

Amendment No. 14 would allow the Scottish Parliament to call the Clerk of the Parliament by any title it feels appropriate. We chose the title of Clerk for the senior official of the Parliament as that is a widely used and clearly understood title. Individuals may refer to the Clerk informally by some other title, but it is important that in formal proceedings and in other formal dealings involving the Clerk, the office should be referred to in a clear and consistent way, which does not confuse the office with any other office or position and which ensures that everyone, not least the Clerk himself, knows where they stand. Therefore, we see little benefit in amendment No. 14.

The Government believe that the titles of the Scottish Executive and the First Minister need to be prescribed by statute to maintain consistency in references throughout the Bill and in future legislation. That will also relate to other formal documents through successive Sessions of the new Parliament. The Government are well aware of the speculation about what other titles might be used to describe the First Minister and his ministerial colleagues. We believe that the titles used in the Bill suit the purpose.

We recognise that the Scottish public may well develop their own description for the First Minister and members of the Scottish Executive--[Laughter.] In anticipation of laughter, I was going to say that some of the names they come up with may not be much to our liking. That said, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) pointed out that what happens in Scotland will be entirely up to the Scottish press, Scottish media generally and the Scottish people. I recognise the arguments that hon. Members have advanced, but I am not persuaded by them.

The Government believe that the title "First Minister" describes the role clearly and avoids confusion with any other office holder. The Scottish Parliament may, for working purposes, add to the titles of the Scottish Ministers so as to distinguish them according to their respective portfolios. Thus, the Parliament could refer to a particular Scottish Minister as "The Scottish Minister for Housing" or "The Scottish Minister for Education" and so on. Such matters will be dealt with later by the Scottish Parliament. That provides some discretion. Such titles could be used in the day-to-day operation of the Parliament, but would have no formal legal status. Collectively, the members of the Scottish Executive will be known as the Scottish Ministers.

As regards amendment No. 36, the Government believe that one Presiding Officer and two deputies are more than capable of chairing Sessions of the Parliament and ensuring that business runs smoothly. I would ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) to withdraw the amendment.


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