Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Ewing: In the light of the Minister's comments, I am willing to ensure that substantial submissions are made to the Procedure Committee. They will be made not just by me, but by many organisations with a more extensive knowledge of the issue than I have.

It was important to raise this issue and to reassure people that the door is not being closed on the possibility of having those facilities in our new Scottish Parliament. I was interested to note that 33 per cent. of the Scottish Office team claim to speak Gaelic. In the light of the very good comments made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), there is a Gaelic saying:

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 553

Schedule 2

Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Question proposed, That this schedule be the second schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell: I wish to make a substantial point on this schedule in relation to the independence of Clerks. The schedule provides for the establishment of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which is broadly modelled on the House of Commons Commission, established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978. Schedule 2 makes further provision for the SPCB. It is uncontentious, except that the Clerks of the Parliament are referred to as "staff", while their opposite numbers at Westminster are referred to as "officers".

There are two issues within the schedule. First, unlike the House of Commons arrangements, the Clerk of the Parliament and Assistant Clerks are to be appointed by the SPCB under clause 19(2) and paragraph 3(1) of schedule 2. Under the 1978 Act, the Clerk, any Clerk Assistant, the Serjeant at Arms and the Speaker's personal staff are not appointed by the House of Commons Commission. In practice, the personal staff of the Speaker have the 1978 Act applied to them, although the Speaker retains the power to appoint such staff and to determine their tenure of office.

The Clerk of the House of Commons is appointed by the Crown for life, by letters patent; the Clerk Assistant is appointed by the Crown, under the sign manual, on the Speaker's recommendation, and is removable only upon an address of the House of Commons. The appointment of the Serjeant at Arms is a gift of the Queen under a warrant from the Lord Chamberlain, and the duties are prescribed by patent under the Great Seal. The significance of that is that the senior officers of the House of Commons have a degree of independence, which is an important consideration in giving advice on what may be politically contentious matters.

Are the Government convinced that the same independence is guaranteed at Holyrood? The background may be arcane, but the nub issue is the independence of the Clerks.

My second point is that, unlike the 1978 Act, no specific provision appears to have been made to apply employment legislation to those employed by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. Are those employed by the SPCB employed at the pleasure of the Crown, under general employment law, or are they subject to instructions given to the SPCB by the Scottish Parliament?

If the Minister wants to reflect on those complicated matters and give me an answer on Report, he will have no complaint from me.

Mr. McLeish: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the independence that is required, and I want to reassure him on that point. Paragraph 3(3) of schedule 2 says:

29 Jan 1998 : Column 554

That is written into the Bill and that is what will happen.

On my hon. Friend's second question about employment conditions, I think that what he said will apply, but I should like to get some details on the matter before responding.

Question put and agreed to. Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 21

Standing Orders

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

Mr. Dalyell: Can the Government confirm that the sub judice rule will be the same in relation to proceedings of the Scottish Parliament as it is in the House of Commons? They may be unable to bind the Scottish Parliament because of Standing Orders. What are the Speaker's rights and privileges in relation to withdrawing the rights and privileges of a Member for a period of exclusion?

That question is not purely hypothetical. As the Secretary of State may recollect, when he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late Anthony Crosland and I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late Dick Crossman, I got into a great deal of trouble with the Privileges Committee over Porton, and chemical and biological weapons--even in those days. I got the rough end of the Privileges Committee. The question of exclusion has not just been whisked out of the air, and clause 21 gives us cause for reflection.

Mr. McLeish: We shall discuss sub judice next. Clearly, there will be a duty on the Scottish Parliament. There will also be a duty on the Parliament to ensure that exclusions are dealt with under Standing Orders. It is an important relationship, which must be defined, and that will be taken care of.

Question put and agreed to. Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Standing Orders--Further Provision

Mr. McLeish: I beg to move amendment No. 219, in schedule 3, page 57, line 17, after 'for', insert '(a)'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 220 and 221.

No. 34, in page 57, line 45, leave out 'Cornwall' and insert 'Rothesay'.

Mr. McLeish: The purpose of amendments Nos. 219 and 220 is to make it quite clear that the Scottish Parliament will be required to make provision in its Standing Orders for a sub judice rule.

Paragraph 1(1) of schedule 3 already requires the Parliament to include in its Standing Orders provision for preserving order in the proceedings of the Parliament, including provision for preventing conduct that would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 555

In reviewing this schedule, the Government have concluded that it does not impose a sufficiently clear requirement on the Scottish Parliament to make provision for a sub judice rule. Without such a rule, the Presiding Officer could be left in considerable doubt as to whether to make a determination to the effect that discussion would be likely to constitute a contempt of court and should therefore be prevented. Discussion may be justified on the grounds that it is incidental to a discussion in good faith of public affairs, and that would make it difficult for the presiding officer to act unless he or she had all the details and circumstances of the particular case. For that reason, there is a serious risk that discussion would take place and that criminal proceedings would be prejudiced before the presiding officer was able to make his or her decision.

The Government are conscious that the solution to this problem must balance three factors: first, the legitimate discretion of the Parliament over the creation of its own Standing Orders; secondly, the importance of preventing public discussion of matters that would result in prejudicing court proceedings, thus damaging the workability of the judicial system in Scotland; and, thirdly, the need to maintain the right to freedom of speech in line with rights under the European convention on human rights.

We have concluded that the best way in which to deal with this point is to require the Scottish Parliament to establish Standing Orders relating to sub judice, but to leave those Standing Orders to be developed in line with those three considerations. Account will, no doubt, be taken of the sub judice resolution that applies to proceedings of the House of Commons.

Amendments Nos. 219 and 220 simply insert a requirement into paragraph 1(1) of schedule 3 that the Scottish Parliament must make provision in its Standing Orders for a sub judice rule. It will be left to the Parliament to determine the details of that rule. A responsible Parliament must make provision to ensure that proper discussion of public affairs does not prejudice court proceedings. The amendments will ensure that the Scottish Parliament has to make appropriate provision.

Amendment No. 221 will allow the Standing Orders to make provision for the withholding of rights and privileges, including salary and allowances, from any Member of the Scottish Parliament in respect of any period during which he or she is excluded under Standing Orders relating to the preservation of order.

6.45 pm

Mrs. Ray Michie: I want to speak to my amendment No. 34, which would alter the clause so that it refers to the Duke of Rothesay instead of to the Duke of Cornwall in the paragraph referring to Crown interests and the requirement of royal consent for a Bill. One of Prince Charles's titles is that of Duke of Rothesay, and it would be more appropriate for that Scottish title to be used instead of the title Duke of Cornwall. It would be a gesture of some sensitivity, as Rothesay will this year celebrate the fact that 600 years ago, in 1498, King Robert III conferred the title on his eldest son, David, and it has been borne by the sovereign's eldest son ever since. It would be a tribute to the town of Rothesay, which in 2001 celebrates 600 years as a royal burgh.

The title of Duke of Rothesay would also be a fitting tribute to the Prince of Wales. It is entirely appropriate that a Bill that re-establishes the Scottish Parliament

29 Jan 1998 : Column 556

should refer to the heir to the throne as the Duke of Rothesay. I do not know whether the Minister will accept the amendment, but it is only small, and he has not accepted any amendments so far. He may say that he cannot accept it because of the archaic rules on titles, lines of succession, and heirs and successors, about which I know little and understand even less. Rules can be altered, however, particularly archaic rules. I ask him to seek an audience with the Queen.

Next Section

IndexHome Page