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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), not for the first time, exercised a degree of profound observation which has partly stolen my thunder. I agreed with many of his comments--in stark contrast to those of the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).

I never cease to be amazed at the Liberal Democrats' ability to pursue facile policies. We heard another example of that ability today. I say that more in sorrow than in anger--no, to be absolutely frank, I say it more in anger than in sorrow. Nevertheless, we learned in the local government elections the electorate's opinion of the Liberal Democrats, who were given just the consolation prize of Liverpool.

The important aspect about this group of amendments is that they would cause damage in three ways. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said, they are uncertain and unclear about the boundary commission for Scotland's terms of reference. Who will determine the commission's remit, and what will that remit be?

Mr. Wallace: Will the hon. Gentleman please look at amendment No. 63, which states:


Those are the rules that will apply.

Mr. Hayes: I am delighted by that observation, as it shows that, occasionally, even the facile can have an eye for detail.

Secondly, the inconsistency established by the potential--I accept that there is only a potential--of establishing in Scotland constituencies of a different size from those at Westminster, and the electorate's consequential confusion, will be a nightmare. If the Scottish Parliament--about which I certainly have reservations--is to have credibility, there must be some clarity and comprehensibility about it in the eyes of the electorate.

The notion of different-sized constituencies for elections to Westminster and to the Scottish Parliament is nonsense. Can hon. Members imagine how that would affect political parties and political associations--which, regardless of party, are based on Westminster constituencies? All hon. Members will know that European elections already cause

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sufficient difficulty. European elections, because of different-sized constituencies, cause confusion and complications not only for the Conservative party but for the Labour party, and probably even for the Liberal Democrats. Creating another size of constituency would cause an organisational nightmare.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might help me by defining the nature of the confusion that will be caused in the minds of the electorate. If I as an elector have one person as my MSP and someone else as my MP, and someone five miles down the road shares the same MP but has a different MSP, how will I be confused? What is the problem?

Mr. Hayes: Surely the nature of the political process makes it important that people should know in which constituency they are electors and constituents. Electorally, we have had great difficulty at all levels, from local government upwards, in establishing in the minds of constituents and electors in which area they reside, who represents them and the functions performed by their representatives at the various tiers. Establishing those facts is a fundamental part of establishing a relationship between the elector and the elected, is it not?

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Will he reflect on the media's effect on that confusion? The newspapers that voters will read, and the television news that they will see, will refer variously either to an elector's MP or to his MSP, further aggravating the confusion that my hon. Friend has described.

Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I entirely agree with his excellent illustration of the point that I was making.

I am not surprised that Liberal Democrat Members are unimpressed by that argument, as their party believes in proportional representation--which would cause a break in the link between the elector and the elected, which is what it would mean. Proportional representation would end the appropriate sense of ownership that electors have for their representatives, and we representatives for our constituencies.

History, and the electorate, will judge very harshly anyone involved in breaking that bond, which is one of the most valuable and important elements in our democratic system. In relation to the Scottish Parliament, this group of amendments goes down that road.

If we are to have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh assembly, let us make them work well. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, it would be nonsense for us, as responsible Members of this Parliament, to get the project off in a fashion that doomed it right from the beginning. If we are to have a Scottish Parliament, let us establish a structure and system that gives it some credibility, and not indulge irrelevant, minority and fringe parties.

7.45 pm

Mr. McLeish: As the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) suggested, early in the Committee stage the Government responded to some of the very positive arguments that were made on the link

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between Scottish parliamentary and United Kingdom parliamentary constituencies, and on the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) made a point on the list system. We are not dealing with an easy matter, as we are dealing not with a first-past-the-post system but with a system in which 73 MSPs will be elected on a first-past-the-post basis, and in which there will be 56 additional Members. The arguments are therefore very complex.

Currently, the Government cannot accept amendment Nos. 61 to 65, which would seek to break the link between constituencies for the UK Parliament and constituencies for the Scottish Parliament. As I said earlier in the debate, hon. Members will recall that we considered similar amendments in Committee.

In Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland made a strong and very reasoned case to retain the size of the Scottish Parliament at 129 members. I agreed then--the point has been confirmed in this debate--that the Government would reflect carefully on the issues that he raised.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have thought long and hard on those matters. We understand the arguments in favour of maintaining the Parliament's size, but we also believe that the Parliament could operate effectively with fewer Members, and that there are good arguments for maintaining the linkage in constituencies. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made a valid point. Projecting ahead, we must consider the possible realities of Scotland after the devolution settlement, and within the Scottish Parliament once its 129 Members are elected.

In the White Paper, we explained that we believed that the Union's integrity would be strengthened by having common constituencies for the Scottish Parliament and for the United Kingdom Parliament, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland. Having constituencies that cover the same geographical area will help to encourage liaison between MPs and MSPs in ensuring that the interests of their common electorate are served properly in whichever Parliament is responsible for an issue. Good working relationships between Members of the Scottish Parliament and Westminster will be essential if devolution is to be a success. Contiguous boundaries would have gone some way in ensuring that success.

Over time, the effect of this group of amendments could lead to different parliamentary constituencies for the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament, with overlapping boundaries leading--in some people's judgment--to confusion among the electorate. Although that point has been highlighted in the debate, I cannot agree with some of the latter comments on the electorate's confusion.

I do not think that the electorate are as confused as some hon. Members think. Because hon. Members are concerned about boundaries, we assume that the electors also are concerned. However, electors in my constituency are a very sharp, bright bunch--which they demonstrate at every election, by voting in a very superior way.

Mr. Hayes: The Minister was obviously referring to my speech. Does he not agree that, under our two-tier local government system, for example, there was massive confusion among the electorate about their various local

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representatives in district councils, county councils and regional councils? It took 20 years to dissipate that confusion. Therefore, although I do not underestimate the electorate, surely the Minister will agree that changes in political structure can have a devastating effect on people's understanding of who represents them, and of which authorities do what.

Mr. McLeish: I am sure that, after this debate, the hon. Gentleman and I could discuss the fact that change creates some confusion and some concern. However, we should not use the word "devastating".

Since 1974, we have had a two-tier system of local government, introduced unitary authorities and created European electoral boundaries. We have Westminster parliamentary boundaries, and will soon have elections to the new Scottish Parliament. We should never underestimate the electorate, because the system has worked.

Under two-tier local government, and now unitary authorities, excellent services have been and are provided. People are less concerned with maps and boundaries than they are with the quality of political contribution and of services. Yes, there is an issue, but we would do well to keep it in perspective.

I am sure that, once the Scottish Parliament is established and its working practices are in place, it could operate effectively with fewer MSPs. Fewer Members would still be able to carry out the essential scrutiny of the Scottish Administration and the enactment of legislation.

As this short debate has highlighted, there are clearly good arguments on both sides of the issue. For the reason that I have explained, there is a good argument for maintaining linkage in constituencies. We are still considering the matter, and we hope to reach a conclusion by the time that the Bill goes to another place.


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