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Mr. Connarty: I have taken a particular interest in the running of the Australian Parliament, where a much larger number of people are entitled to serve in the Chair. From

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talking to Members of that Parliament, I have learnt that it helps the smooth running of the Parliament to have large numbers of people rotating in that duty; it also helps to ensure that many Members gain experience of chairing the main Chamber. Have we looked further afield than this Parliament for examples?

M. McLeish: In respect of the Presiding Officer and the deputies, I think that the position that we have put forward is the best one. I assure my hon. Friend that we have looked long and hard at several other models and considered several other options. The chairing of Committees in the new Parliament is a matter that has yet to be addressed, but that need not delay our consideration of the Bill.

5.45 pm

Amendment No. 196 would make the election of the Presiding Officer unnecessarily complicated and clearly we cannot accept it. The Government believe that the Presiding Officer and his two deputies should be elected from among Members at a meeting of the Parliament, without fixing in the Bill the majority required. It will be in Members' interest to be present and vote at that election for their Presiding Officer, and a simple majority should be sufficient, although the Parliament itself could provide in its Standing Orders for a higher threshold.

The amendment would set a threshold for the Parliament, and indeed set it a very high level. It would effectively give a veto to a small number of Members in a particular region. I do not believe that there is a need to impose on the Parliament artificial thresholds in electing its own Presiding Officer. I again ask the Committee to reject the amendment. Some hon. Members have talked about the attractions of adopting the term "Speaker" to describe the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, but I invite the House to consider the genuine risk of confusion which could arise if both the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament used that term.

I am sure hon. Members will not be surprised when I say that the Government do not accept amendments Nos. 145 to 158 and No. 197. We have consistently made it clear that we envisage the Parliament as being modern, forward-looking, accessible and relevant to today's generation of people living in Scotland. I am not quite sure what is being driven at in the amendments, but I presume that it is a reflection of the term used in the pre-Union Parliament. It seems quite inappropriate to look back in time for old titles when we are looking forward to a new modern Parliament.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body--or the SPCB as it will no doubt be referred to--will look after the housekeeping and administration of the Parliament. Its concept is similar to the arrangements for this House under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 which established the House of Commons Commission as a corporate body for the purposes of appointing staff of the House of Commons. The Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992 also established corporate officers for both Houses of Parliament with powers to hold property and enter into contracts for the respective Houses.

The functions of the SPCB will be wide and varied, ranging from representing the Parliament in legal matters to the organisation of the provision of services such as cleaning services. As the corporate body of the Parliament, the use of the title "corporation" is

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appropriate; it is a word recognisable to the public and it will be understood by those dealing with the corporation. "Estaite" on the other hand is neither appropriate nor easily understood in this context. The word estaite is an historical term formerly used in connection with the pre-Union Parliament. It actually referred to the constituents of that Parliament--the clergy, nobility and burgesses--not to its administrative functions. Arguably, there is a close analogy to the Members of the Scottish Parliament. The amendments are therefore misconceived as well as undesirable, and I ask the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) not to press his amendments.

The purpose of amendment No. 218 is to allow a deputy to perform the functions of the Presiding Officer if that office is vacant or if the Presiding Officer is unable to act. As it stands, clause 18 requires the Standing Orders to make provision for a Member of the Parliament to exercise the Presiding Officer's functions if the post falls vacant during the period when Parliament is dissolved. However, that would not allow provision to be made covering a vacancy or incapacity that might arise when the Parliament is dissolved. My proposed amendment would allow the Presiding Officer's functions to be exercised by a deputy in such circumstances, as well as at other times when a vacancy or incapacity arises.

The amendment ensures that there is at all times someone who can exercise the Presiding Officer's functions and it also makes it clear that it should be an elected deputy rather than any other Member of the Parliament who should exercise those functions in the event of the Presiding Officer's incapacity or if the office of Presiding Officer is vacant. I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Gorrie: I am grateful to those hon. Members who have given support to the general thrust of our idea that the Scottish Parliament should be enabled to decide the matters that we have been discussing. There was support for the idea from hon. Members on both sides, although--as usual--none from Conservative Members. I take comfort in the fact that, whatever parents may choose to call their children and put on the baptismal certificate, when the child grows up he or she decides what he or she wishes to be called.

I was very entertained by the suggestions of the "auld alliance" about going in for French titles, but I was pleased that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) had not strayed as far as Italy; it would not be helpful to have the premier, or whatever, of Scotland described as a prima donna.

I believe that many hon. Members share my disappointment that the Government are persisting with their prescriptive attitude and preventing the sensible amendments to allow the Scottish Parliament to change the name officially as well as unofficially, but no one has ever prevented the Scottish public from saying anything about anything. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Amendment made: No. 218, page 9, line 6, leave out from beginning to 'if' in line 7 and insert


'The Presiding Officer's functions may be exercised by a deputy'.--[Mr. McLeish.]

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Clause 18, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Clerk of the Parliament


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell: When the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body starts the process of selecting a Clerk and Deputy Clerk, will they be head-hunted from those who have expertise in the House of Commons? [Interruption.] They will not necessarily, because there are experts in Edinburgh who have been working in devolution and who were Clerks in the House. Are they to be paid on the same basis as Clerks in the House?

Mr. McLeish: I think at this stage those details have not been worked out, but I reassure my hon. Friend that we are looking for both expertise and excellence. It will be up to the Parliament to seek the best person for the job, and my hon. Friend's comments show that he too wants that.

Mr. Dalyell: But timing is important, because presumably the Clerk and Deputy Clerk must be in place before the Parliament sits, in 1999.

Mr. McLeish: I think that the Government understand that. We are proceeding now to get the Bill on to the statute book. We have set up several committees to look at the nuts and bolts of the way in which the Parliament will work. Obviously, that level of detail--that type of very important issue--will be tackled at a very early day. If we are holding the elections on 6 May 1999, a tremendous amount of work must be done before then, and I think I can reassure my hon. Friend that attention will be paid to the matters that he has raised.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I appreciate what the Minister says, but it goes further than that, does it not? Who will make the appointment? For instance, in Northern Ireland, as I noted when we visited Stormont, there is a Clerk of a potential Northern Ireland assembly, who has been in residence for many years. Will the appointment be made by the House, by Ministers? Will it be done by the Secretary of State for Scotland or left to the Scottish Parliament? In any case, it will have to be done well before the Parliament starts sitting.

Mr. McLeish: The obvious points have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), and of course they are appreciated. The Parliament is a serious business, and indeed the Parliament will establish the post of Clerk. We are anxious to pass the legislation. In parallel with that, we are setting up several consultative groups and committees to ensure that we discuss those details. There is no ambiguity, and no one sitting anywhere has a locus on that job at present. We accept that expertise is important; we want the best in the Scottish Parliament. That will be the objective.

Question put and agreed to. Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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