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Mr. Dalyell: I will not ask my hon. Friend for an answer off the top of his head, but will he write to me, because this question is not as simple as he makes out? Clause 27(7) states:


In the light of that, I think that my hon. Friend should give me a considered answer in a letter.

Mr. McLeish: I shall be happy to write to my hon. Friend, but we should make it clear that clause 27(7), and the debate on it, is about sovereignty and the ability of the Westminster Parliament to make laws in any area, devolved or reserved. This evening, we are talking about the First Minister, and I repeat that he or she will be selected by the Parliament after the election and the choice will be passed to the Queen by the Presiding Officer. That is the process.

Mr. Salmond: The point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is wrong, because it relates to legislation, not to appointments. However, is it not correct that, under clause 27(7), the UK Parliament could legislate to change the method of appointing the Scottish First Minister?

Mr. McLeish: We have debated the issue and points have been exchanged across the Committee; the view taken depends on one's political perspective. We have made the point that this measure devolves substantial powers to Scotland--it is about devolution, not separation or independence.

The Government cannot agree to amendments Nos. 44, 76 and 87 to 90, which were tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and for Dundee, East. The amendments would remove the involvement of Her Majesty in the appointment of the First Minister, other Scottish Ministers appointed under clause 44 and junior Ministers appointed under clause 46.

The Scottish Ministers, headed by the First Minister and assisted by the junior Scottish Ministers, will exercise, on behalf of Her Majesty, her prerogative and other executive functions in relation to devolved matters. They will, in effect, be Her Majesty's Government in Scotland in relation to devolved matters. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the Queen should appoint the First Minister; that she should approve the appointment of other Ministers and junior Ministers to the Scottish administration; and that each of those appointees should hold office at her pleasure.

The involvement of Her Majesty does not, of course, exclude the involvement of the Parliament. On the contrary, in line with the White Paper, the Bill provides a significant role for the Scottish Parliament in the appointment of the Scottish Executive. It is a point worth making that in this place, Ministers are not approved or, selected by the House, but the Scottish First Minister and the other Scottish Ministers will be approved and voted on by the Scottish Parliament.

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That is a significant step forward in the scrutiny of the Executive. It starts at the foundation: the people will have spoken in electing Members of the Scottish Parliament who then, for the first time and unlike here, will have the ability to influence who represents the people of Scotland in ministerial posts. The significance of that step should not be lost on the Committee this evening. We see no need to amend the Bill in the way proposed, and I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West withdraw the amendment.

I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West and for Dundee, East in support of amendment No. 75. The nature of the post of junior Scottish Minister will differ from that of a member of the Scottish Executive. The nature of their task will be to assist the Scottish Ministers in the exercise of their functions. With that in mind, the Bill proposes a simpler mechanism for their appointment. Nevertheless, I am also aware that the Scottish Constitutional Convention recommended that all Ministers should require to be confirmed by simple majority of the full Parliament.

I am therefore happy to accept the intention behind amendment No. 75 that the Parliament should be involved in the appointment of junior Scottish Ministers. I therefore undertake to bring forward an appropriate Government amendment on Report. With that undertaking, I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West not to press the amendment.

The Government cannot agree to amendment No. 254. The provisions in the Bill are intended to ensure that there is always someone able to perform the functions of the First Minister and act as head of the Scottish Administration. In practice, it is expected that each First Minister will hold office until replaced by his or her successor. However, circumstances could arise where the post falls vacant, for example on the death of the First Minister or if the First Minister is temporarily unable to act--that may fall partly into the definition proposed by the hon. Member for Woodspring. In such an event, a caretaker can be appointed to fulfil the role, pending the nomination and appointment of a new First Minister.

Mr. Grieve: I understand that point, but the clause as it stands conveys the impression--it may be no more than an impression--that the person who is acting is somehow a different animal from the First Minister, whereas my understanding is that an acting First Minister would still hold office at the Queen's pleasure and have all the First Minister's powers. That is the point that is opaque in the clause as it stands.

Mr. McLeish: That is a reasonable reflection, but I must get on and cover some more of the points raised in the debate.

The mechanism for appointment of such a caretaker reflects the exceptional and transitory nature of the appointment. It lacks the formalities of the appointment of the First Minister precisely so as to avoid conveying the impression that the person is the First Minister rather than a temporary incumbent. On balance, the Government believe that the arrangements should be kept as simple as possible. The Presiding Officer is well placed to be able

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to judge which Member of the Scottish Parliament has the capacity and political credibility to fulfil that important role and I believe that it should be left to the Presiding Officer's discretion.

The Government do not accept amendments Nos. 276 and 277. Amendment No. 276 would restrict the number of Scottish Ministers whom the First Minister can appoint. It would be inappropriate to do that, for a variety of reasons. The First Minister will have to seek the agreement of the Scottish Parliament; therefore, within the group of 129 MSPs, there is accountability and a chance to make a judgment on the number of Scottish Ministers. The Parliament will be able to withhold its approval if it thinks that there are too many nominations. In addition, through its control of salaries and allowances, the Parliament will be able to limit to a reasonable sum the expenditure on ministerial salaries.

There is a feeling on both sides of the Committee that the matter should be left to the Parliament. It is a question of maturity and of adopting a sensible perspective. Ultimately, the First Minister and the Scottish Parliament will be accountable to the people of Scotland for their actions. That will, in our view, provide the proper means of ensuring that the size of the membership of the Scottish Executive is truly appropriate.

Dr. Fox: We are missing a great opportunity. Such a self-denying ordinance would have sent a signal to the Scottish electorate that a blank cheque is not being handed over. I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept the amendment, but we shall press it to a Division.

Mr. McLeish: The Committee is not offering a blank cheque to anyone. We are setting up a mature, serious and responsible Parliament, and it will be up to the Members of that Parliament to decide what Ministers are required to carry out the functions and represent the interests of the Scottish people. That is appropriate and proper. We do not share the Opposition's concerns, and I hope that they will not press the amendment.

The Government cannot accept amendments Nos. 275 and 313, which are both unnecessary and inappropriate. The circumstances described are unlikely to arise in practice, and if they did, there are mechanisms in the Bill to deal with the problem. If at any time it appeared to the Presiding Officer that the First Minister was unable to act for whatever reason, including mental illness, it would be open to him or her under clause 42(4) to designate an MSP to exercise the functions of the First Minister.

Should it become clear that the First Minister's inability to carry out his functions was not going to be merely temporary, he would be expected to resign. In the unlikely event of his being unwilling to resign, the Scottish Parliament could effectively remove him and his Executive through a vote of no confidence. That would require the First Minister to resign and would, in turn, lead to the appointment of a new First Minister. That may seem a drastic course of action, but the likely political reality is that there would be a general recognition of the need to address the problem and the Parliament could act to ensure that the matter was resolved without delay. In any case, I submit that clauses 42(4) and 43 provide a serious process to deal with a potential problem. First, there is a temporary acceptance and accommodation of the fact that the First Minister is unable to do the job; then there is a proper procedure to repair the situation.

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The Government cannot accept amendment No. 278, which would remove from the First Minister some valuable flexibility to tailor the structure of the Scottish Administration to the demands upon it. In view of the time, I shall now sit down.


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