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Mr. Dalyell: It may have occurred to Ministers by now that I am no friend of the legislation. However, even I am not so ill disposed as to wish to see a reduction in the number of Members in the Edinburgh Parliament. Imagine it: within a week of the election, Members would be eyeing one another and wondering what would happen five years hence. Understandably, people would begin to fight for position like Kilkenny cats, because they would know that, at the end of five years, a quarter of them would be axed. The ill feeling that such knowledge would create from the beginning, and the sickly personal relations that would follow, would be extremely undesirable. I hope that whatever number is chosen is kept up. If there is to be a Parliament, there should be 142 Members to start with, but that is all water under the bridge. The expectation of a reduction is a recipe for such sour ill will that it would be to the advantage of none of us in Scotland.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: I have two comments. The first is the obvious one that would be made by any man or woman in the street: if 129 Members is reasonable for the Parliament next year, why would it be unreasonable in 10 or 20 years? Why on earth should we start to change the boundaries of a devolved Scottish Parliament simply because there is an argument for changing the Westminster constituencies? The second issue is more serious. There are two types of Member in the Scottish Parliament and the number of list Members, even under the present system, goes a fair way towards ensuring proportionality, although the precise amount that will be achieved will depend on the results. Nobody can predict how much proportionality will be realised. To some extent, the amount of disproportionality may be increased because there are to be eight regional lists rather than one national list. To achieve proportionality, it is necessary to have enough top-up seats to even out the imbalances. If the number of available top-up seats is reduced, there is a strong likelihood that proportionality will be diminished, even if first-past-the-post seats are also reduced. We will be back to a much more first-past-the-post system than is proposed in the legislation. Given that one of the main arguments of the people who introduced the legislation was that it did include a very high element of proportional representation, it seems strange that they now accept something that will almost inevitably reduce proportionality.

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7.30 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Reflecting on the comments of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan), I think that we do well to remind the House that a degree of proportionality is not predictable under the hybrid additional member system that we are adopting for the Scottish Parliament. It remains to be seen how proportionally fair the electoral system is compared with a first-past-the-post system.

I draw the House's attention to the comment by the Minister in reply to the previous debate on this subject in Committee, to which the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has alluded. The Minister said that the Bill "strikes the right balance". I compare that with the all too sensible analysis of what is likely to happen by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). What we have here is far short of the stability that the Scottish Parliament will look for and that Scottish people have a right to expect from the Parliament.

I remind the House that, in Committee, we tabled an amendment to deal with this problem, which was logical in view of the Government's original intentions as expressed in the White Paper. The amendment would change the constituency boundaries before the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, so that the number of MSPs that the Scottish Parliament started with would be the same as the number that it continued with. The representation in the House would be reduced as soon as it was re-elected at a subsequent general election. As I say, what we are left with in the White Paper is just a mess, with 129 MSPs first being selected and then cut.

These amendments give the Scottish Parliament the opportunity to decide whether to maintain the present number or to change the number of constituencies. The key question is: who is to decide the criteria for the Scottish boundary commission? Effectively, that commission will work for two masters. If the brief drawn up for it is analogous to that of the boundary commission that already exists, it will have to have regard to the Westminster constituencies as much as to local government boundaries. There will be confusion as to which is paramount: the Westminster constituencies or the Scottish parliamentary constituencies.

In any case, the Minister, by announcing that the Government are looking to review this--I should be grateful if he would confirm that the Government do intend to table amendments in the other place--shows that this part of the White Paper is extremely ill thought out and ill considered. Whatever the Government now recommend, either here or in the other place, to set this matter straight, it will be a departure from the White Paper.

Dr. Godman: I have some sympathy for a couple of the comments by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on the likely composition of the Edinburgh Parliament. I should not like to guess it. I do not at this moment have much idea at all. The question of proportionality is a different matter. I personally favour the sort of electoral system that we will have for that Parliament. I have always opposed the first-past-the-post system.

The new system will, of course, be of some advantage to the party of the hon. Member for North Essex. As I have said many times, we have an absurd set of

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circumstances concerning this place. About 500,000 Scots voted for Conservative candidates, yet neither the Scottish Conservative party nor those Scots are represented in this Parliament. For all its flaws and loose ends, the system proposed for the new Parliament is much better than the system we have for this place.

I am not altogether arguing that the number of MSPs should in the near future be reduced. I am concerned just about the size of the constituencies represented by MSPs.

I think, for example, if I might digress just for about 14 seconds, that the number of representatives proposed for the Northern Ireland assembly is too high. People say, "Yes, but we are talking there about special circumstances." However, I thought that the aim would be to bring that assembly as near as we could to the normal, everyday life of other assemblies and Parliaments elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It may be that, as the hon. Member for North Essex, who speaks on behalf of the official Opposition, says, it should be left to the Scottish Parliament to determine these matters--for example, how many Members should be in that place.

I say to my hon. and very old Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell): I am not particularly concerned about the feelings of the Members of that assembly. I might be if I were one of them and facing the disappearance of my constituency, but I am never going to be in that position. The Parliament has been created for the better governance of Scotland, not to meet the needs, aspirations and concerns of those who will be in that Parliament.

Mr. Dalyell: The better governance of Scotland is not going to be served if Members of the Parliament fight for position like ferrets in a sack, as they assuredly will.

Dr. Godman: We have seen some of that fighting in parties in this place. It is epitomised by the chicken run and people squabbling over boundary changes. I have seen a little of that in Renfrewshire in recent years.

I have some sympathy for the object of the amendments, but, at the same time, the hon. Member for North Essex is absolutely right: these matters must be left to the Members of Parliament in Scotland. At the same time, I caution against the idea that the figure we now have is in some way sacrosanct. Over time, the number of MSPs, or of representatives or deputies--whatever they are called--going into the Northern Ireland assembly, will change. There will be a change in the number of Scots Members in this place.

As I have said, in a general sense, we are, in an unco-ordinated way, moving towards a federal system. I note that more and more Tory Members believe that--

Mr. Jenkin: "Unco-ordinated" is the word.

Dr. Godman: I think it is. We are moving along that road. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) shakes her head vehemently. I do not think that she wants Scotland to move in any way from the UK. I think that her heart is in a Scottish constituency somewhere, but that is another story.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: Does the hon. Gentleman accept the point that I was trying to make: the more we

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reduce the overall number and the first-past-the-post and list Members pro rata, the less likely we are to achieve a proportional outcome in any given election?

Dr. Godman: I agree, and I thought that the hon. Gentleman put his case intelligently and concisely. We do have problems relating to proportionality. There are problems with any system that we think of. God forgive us for thinking about the Knesset and the dreadful system of proportional representation there. I would not inflict the Irish system on a Scottish Parliament or on the assembly that is to be created in the six counties. However, the system proposed--even if the numbers are reduced--for all its loose ends, is much better than what we have in this place. Although there may be a reduction in the number of MSPs, it will still be a better and fairer system than the ridiculous, anachronistic system for electing hon. Members to this place.


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