Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): In Egypt, we have now seen a referendum on eight amendments to the constitution put forward by the interim military Government. Does the Foreign Secretary

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agree that all the amendments must be agreed by a new Parliament elected through free and fair elections in order to have a genuine democratic mandate?

Mr Hague: There is no doubt that we want to see free and fair elections in Egypt for the presidency and the Parliament. The people who have brought about the revolution in Egypt are also absolutely determined about that, however, so they do not need the United Kingdom to show our determination on that front—although we certainly agree. It is the people of Egypt who own what has happened, and of course we now want to see the development of a stable, open democracy in that country.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary is right to say that things have gone well and other things have not gone so well. However, with the decision not to convene Cobra for several days, the no-fly zone announcement, which was on and then off, the flights fiasco and the announcement about Venezuela, the mishaps have been coming thick and fast. Would he not be in a good position to try and rebuild his credibility if he apologised to the House and to those who might feel that their lives have potentially been put in danger by the mishaps that have befallen them over the past two weeks?

Mr Hague: The policy on the no-fly zone, which the hon. Gentleman asks about, has been the same throughout. As I have explained, the evacuation of British nationals was completed ahead of that of many other countries. Indeed, we assisted people from about 30 other countries in doing so. When one looks at those things, they will see that the United Kingdom has a good deal to be proud of.

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Points of Order

4.42 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following last week’s overwhelming yes vote for law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales, both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor made statements over the weekend indicating the UK Government’s intention to begin a Calman-like process for Wales. Is it in order that these statements were made at their conference in Cardiff rather than in this House or the Welsh Assembly?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his intended point of order. I confess that I am not aware of any Government statement on this subject. Neither am I aware, notwithstanding what he just said in pursuit of his point of order, that there is a matter of order on which I can rule. However, I suspect that being a perspicacious Member he will find other opportunities to pursue the matter through the Order Paper and in the House.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have seen the large number of Members interested in the Foreign Secretary’s statement just now and the intensity of the questioning. Have you had any suggestions that there is going to be a full day’s debate on north Africa and the middle east in the very near future?

Mr Speaker: In the first instance, where Government time is concerned, that is a matter for the Government. Secondly, it could be a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. I was trying to think whether there was anything further in my mind on the subject, but I cannot recall off the top of my head any other plan. However, there are those two possible avenues, and I have a feeling that, if the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied or if what he wants is not forthcoming pretty soon, he will renew his endeavours.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to look at the Order Paper for Thursday 17 March.

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House, because I did not have the Order Paper in front of me and could not recall that date. I had germinating in my mind the notion that something was brewing, but I did not know what. However, the Deputy Leader of the House has helped the hon. Gentleman, me and the whole House, so we are all extremely grateful to him.

Jeremy Corbyn: We are all happy.

Mr Speaker: We hear pre-emptive gratification from the hon. Gentleman from a sedentary position.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you very much.

Mr Speaker: Gosh, we have an outbreak of happiness in the Chamber on a Monday afternoon. We are all grateful, and I am sure the country will be too.

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Scotland Bill

[1st Allocated Day]

Considered in Committee.

[Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]

Clause 1

Administration of elections

4.45 pm

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move amendment 10, page 1, line 22, at end insert—

‘(3A) After subsection (2) there is inserted—

(2A) The first order made by Scottish Ministers under subsection (1)(a) must include the application to Scottish Parliamentary general elections of the terms of paragraph (3A) of Rule 45 (the count) and Rule 53ZA (counting of votes: statement by returning officer) in Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983.”’.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Government amendment 29.

New clause 5—Administration of elections—

‘(1) In Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the Act (enactments protected from modification by the Parliament), in paragraph 4(2) after “1(4)”, there is inserted “12”.

(2) In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Act (reserved matters: specific reservations), in Section B3 (elections) the words “the European Parliament and the Parliament” are omitted and the words “and the European Parliament” are inserted.’.

Tom Greatrex: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Primarolo, as we embark on the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill. Since we last debated the issues on Second Reading, the legislative consent motion Committee has made its report to the Scottish Parliament, which we received last week. I understand that it will be debated by the Scottish Parliament later this week. There is also the ongoing scrutiny of these matters by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, to which the Secretary of State and others have given evidence. We are part of the way down the road, but there is still some way to go.

It is right that our scrutiny is done thoroughly and with care, and that the issues are properly raised and discussed, particularly in the Committee stage on which we have embarked. I am sure that many Members will wish to press their points on different aspects of the Bill. For our part, we have tabled a number of amendments, of which amendment 10 is the first. Some are designed to tease out detailed consideration to which the Minister might wish to respond further today or on Report, while we intend to press other amendments to the vote.

I would like to say at the outset how grateful we are for the assistance and discussion we have had with a wide range of interested parties and individuals over the past few weeks as we have sought to scrutinise the Bill. We are also grateful for the Secretary of State’s confirmation—after some reasoned but pointed business questions in recent weeks, which also ensured that the

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Leader of the House had a fuller understanding of the Holyrood legislative process than he otherwise would—that the Government will not move forward to Report until the LCM process in Holyrood has been completed. We also note the Secretary of State’s confirmation that while he will wish to reflect on the content of the initial LCM Committee report—and, presumably, the motion that accompanies it—he will not necessarily be bound by it, which is a point he recently made at the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry. The LCM Committee made a number of observations and recommendations, and I am sure the whole House—well, at least some of it—will look forward to hearing the Government’s response to those points.

It is part of the responsibility of Members to press on particular aspects of the Bill. There are strongly held views on both sides of the House on some aspects of devolution, but it is important to endeavour to continue our scrutiny of what the Secretary of State himself has proclaimed to be the most significant development in constitutional arrangements since the Scotland Act 1998. Our reference point, as always, because of its shared, cross-party status, is the report of the Calman commission, which hon. Members know led to an earlier White Paper before the general election and, subsequently, to this Bill.

Clause 1 deals with the administration of elections, which Calman recommended should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Amendment 10 deals specifically with overnight counts, which I shall discuss first. It is widely acknowledged that, by and large, people in Scotland want to know the results of their elections as soon as it is practicable so to do. That was the objective of the Minister when he was in opposition in the lead-up to the general election last year and it was supported by the then Opposition parties in respect of an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1983, which my amendment seeks to replicate. The Government are well aware of the history.

Partly owing to measures of the Government’s own making, such as the imposition of a referendum on the same day as the Scottish parliamentary elections, and partly owing to the views of electoral administrators—who always come out of the woodwork during the build-up to elections—there has been continuing speculation in recent weeks that returning officers will again seek to move wholeheartedly to morning counts, which is something that they do habitually. They tried it in 2005—when, as an employee of East Dunbartonshire council, I was closely involved in the arrangements relating to the count for the redrawn East Dunbartonshire constituency—but got nowhere. They tried it in 2007 for the purpose of the Scottish parliamentary elections, notwithstanding the disruption caused to those elections, although—unlike the design and descriptions on the ballot papers—the time of the count was not an issue; and they tried it again in the run-up to the general election.

As the Minister will recall, I raised the matter with him via the Leader of the House. Despite an earlier suggestion that it might be dealt with in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, he wrote to me saying that he was not prepared to change the law, that it was all very difficult, that returning officers were independent and he could not tell them what to do, and that we should leave it at that and lobby if we so wished. That was an interesting revision of the view that the

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Minister had expressed about a year ago, before the general election. I have with me the letter that he sent to me, in which he said that he assumed that I knew all that, given my long service as a special adviser at the Scotland Office. Given that long service at the Scotland Office, I was also aware that I would receive a letter from officials that I would send back, asking them to try again. Perhaps the Minister will learn that in the months and years to come.

The spectre of election counts not starting as soon as practicable is still with us in respect of the voting in May. Although the revered Tom Aitchison of City of Edinburgh council is no longer in post, his successors keep trying. The amendment deals with the issue for the next election to the Scottish Parliament and every other set of Scottish parliamentary elections by invoking the amendment to the Representation of the People Act that finally dealt with it before the general election.

I note the comments of the Electoral Commission, which has said that the amendment contains flexibility to deal with the position in constituencies such as Argyll and Bute in which there are practical problems connected with starting counts. However, it allows the counts to begin as soon as practicable after the election. Given that the Minister and his colleagues voted for this 12 months ago, I am sure that even within the scope of the coalition agreement there is the opportunity for some consistency on the Government’s part. I hope that those of us, in all parts of the Committee, who wish to reflect the view of our constituents that counts should happen as soon as possible after elections make our position clear. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s comments.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I find myself in the extremely unusual position of agreeing entirely with everything that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) has said. That is not surprising, however, given that the amendment that was accepted by the Government approximately a year ago, before the last general election, was originally tabled by me. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) wisely added his name to it and accepted it as a Government amendment, and it became part of the Bill. At the time, I thought that that was the only thing that I had ever achieved from the Opposition Front Bench, but perhaps that was due to the cynicism engendered by 13 years of opposition.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West has tabled the amendment again. It was very popular with Members in all parts of the House when we debated it a year ago. It became law, and it made a difference to the way in which the general election was administered and to the timing of the extremely disappointing results of that election across the country. But if we were going to get bad news, perhaps it was as well to get it sooner rather than later. That is not the point, however. The point is that, in the operation of our democracy, it is right that election counts should take place as soon as practically possible after the close of poll.

We discovered that many excuses were being made by returning officers around the country for not undertaking their duties in a timely and correct manner. They made

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every excuse that they could think of, none of which proved to be correct, because, when the law was changed and they were required to act as they ought to have been acting in the first place, they did so. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this amendment, but I hope that I shall be able to support what the hon. Gentleman has just proposed to the Committee.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I welcome you to the Committee, Ms Primarolo. I know how much you appreciate the convivial nature of Scottish debates, and I hope that we will do our best to behave ourselves today and to conduct these proceedings in a civil manner.

On Second Reading, we made it clear that it was our intention to improve and strengthen the Bill. I concede that, over the past few weeks, significant progress has been made in that direction. We have already had the report from the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee, which made a number of useful and helpful recommendations, especially those that apply to the non-fiscal parts of the Bill. I welcome those recommendations. It is perhaps unfortunate, however, that some of them cannot be properly debated because of where we are in the process. The Scottish Parliament has not even passed its legislative consent motion, yet we are here in Committee today discussing the Scotland Bill, line by line and clause by clause.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Notwithstanding all that, and the fact that there is a huge amount of discussion still to be had, will the hon. Gentleman address the amendment? Does he not agree that it is absolutely right that the count in all Scottish parliamentary elections should take place immediately, overnight?

Pete Wishart: I have no dispute whatever with the hon. Lady about that; of course the count should take place as soon as possible—[ Interruption. ] If she will allow me, I must point out that we are debating clause 1. She needs to check what we are discussing just now.

We have made progress, but it is unfortunate that we are unable to debate certain amendments that could have been tabled on the back of what was proposed by the parliamentary Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament. We are at a different stage in the process. The legislative consent motion has not been passed, yet we are here today scrutinising the Bill in detail in Committee without having access to that important work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): May I seek clarification from the hon. Gentleman? Why are he and his colleagues tabling amendments that do not appear in the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent motion Committee? For example, they are tabling an amendment proposing to devolve the matter of especially dangerous airguns to the Scottish Parliament, even though that was not the unanimous view of the Committee. If he respects the view of the Committee, why is he tabling such amendments?

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I know that the Minister is eager to debate airguns, but perhaps he could wait until

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we get to the relevant clause? Meanwhile, I am sure that Mr Wishart was going to stick to clause 1 and this group of amendments.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to you, Ms Primarolo. That is exactly what I was going to do. May I just say to the Minister, however, that we will introduce and propose our own amendments? His problem as a Minister, and the problem for all the Calman commission parties, is that they have no opportunity to table their own amendments relating to the recommendations of the Scottish parliamentary Bill Committee. There has been no opportunity to do that because we got the Bill Committee’s report only on Friday morning.

David Mundell: I do not want to exceed my role, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that it will be possible to discuss any further amendments arising from the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the Committee’s report on Report in this House.

5 pm

Pete Wishart: That answers one of the questions that I was going to put to the Minister, which is when are we going to see those amendments? How are they going to be introduced? If they are all to be tabled on Report, we will need a little more time to discuss them than is currently available. It would be unacceptable for them to be tabled in the unelected House of Lords. It is the responsibility of directly elected Members of Parliament to discuss those issues, and we should have the opportunity to do so. Those amendments should not be tabled in the House of Lords; they should be discussed on the Floor of this House. We should also have more time on Report, if that is when we will see those important amendments arising from the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): My hon. Friend will have noticed the Minister saying that there would be time later—perhaps on Report—for the consideration of any amendments that follow the LCM Committee’s recommendations. However, during earlier exchanges the Secretary of State was nodding when my hon. Friend was confirming that the Government would not be bound by the LCM Committee’s recommendations. Will he now press the Government to confirm that if the LCM Committee proposes serious amendments or makes recommendations that would improve the Bill, they will accept them?

Pete Wishart: My hon. Friend poses an important question for the Minister. That is what we need to hear: are the Government of a mind to accept those recommendations? [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State is saying no. That is very clear. This is not an issue just for me; it is an issue for all my colleagues in the Chamber. This was supposed to be a process that started in the Scottish Parliament, but now that recommendations have been made, the Secretary of State is saying that he is not of a mind to accept them all. Perhaps he could give his view on what he is prepared to bring forward and what he is not prepared to bring forward.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Michael Moore): If I may repeat what I said to the Chair of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Scottish Parliament’s Committee, we are already actively considering all the

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different proposals that have come forward from what is an excellent and serious report. We are taking it seriously and we will bring forward our thoughts on it at the appropriate moment, with time for plenty of scrutiny both here and in another place.

Pete Wishart: That is a helpful contribution from the Secretary of State, but perhaps when the Minister winds up he could tell us when we will see those amendments, where they will be introduced and when elected Members of this House will have the opportunity to debate them.

I bring all this up because the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee makes an important recommendation in relation to the proposals for electoral administration. What we see in new clause 1 is the partial devolution of some administrative responsibilities—not all, as was recommended in the Calman report—from the Secretary of State to Scottish Ministers. The Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee said that two more areas should be added, covering the disqualification of Members and arrangements for elections to the Scottish Parliament. The Committee made those proposals, but we have not had the opportunity to debate them because we have not seen any amendments.

Why is that important? It is important because of recent experience. We have to go back only four short years to find out what can happen in electoral administration, when more than 140,000 of our fellow citizens were effectively disenfranchised. They lost their ability to vote because of how the Labour party, which was then administering the Scotland Office, failed to discharge its obligations and responsibilities seriously and sensibly. Some 140,000 people lost their votes in the last Scottish Parliament elections. To be fair to the former Labour Scotland Office, a number of problems with that election were identified. To the previous Government’s credit—I acknowledge this—they brought in Ron Gould to look at what went wrong and perhaps make recommendations to ensure that it never happened again.

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the concerns raised was about putting the words “Alex Salmond for First Minister” on the ballot paper?

Pete Wishart: I accept that, and I said that the failings identified were not just those of the then Labour Scotland Office, although it was in charge of the process and the buck stopped there. Ron Gould identified a number of issues in his report. One of the key things that he identified was fragmentation and a disparity in responsibilities between this House and the Scottish Parliament. He made the strong suggestion that all responsibilities and arrangements for Scottish Parliament elections should be in one place, under one jurisdiction, and he gave the strongest possible hint that that should be the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament considered the Gould report back in January 2008. Its Members were unanimously of the view that all electoral administration, including competence for elections, should be in one place, and they made it clear that that place should be the Scottish Parliament.

David Mundell: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that as one of Ron Gould’s recommendations was that there should be no overnight counts, perhaps he was not right about everything?

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Pete Wishart: I am more than happy to acknowledge that Ron Gould was not right about everything, but I think most Members accepted the broad thrust of his report’s recommendations in respect of the structural problems that arose in the 2007 election. One of his recommendations was that all responsibilities for elections should lie in one House, and he gave the strongest possible hint that that should be the Scottish Parliament. Our new clause 5 proposes precisely that. It brings together all aspects of electoral administration and legislative competence and places them with the Scottish Parliament, which is where they should be. We believe that that is the case not only because about 140,000 people lost their votes in 2007, but because it is the normal way of things. Any self-respecting Parliament should be in charge of its electoral arrangements. With election to office comes accountability, and we strongly believe that all arrangements to do with elections should be the responsibility of the Parliament that has been elected on the basis of those arrangements.

I accept that the Bill’s proposals represent an improvement on current arrangements. I welcome the fact that it devolves certain administrative functions to Scottish Ministers—indeed, I welcome any transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament—but it does not even devolve all aspects of electoral administration, as recommended by the Calman commission. That would still give the Secretary of State powers over voter registration, the rules on the composition of Parliament, the procedure for filling any regional seat vacancy during the life of the Parliament, and rules relating to disqualification.

Scottish Ministers would still need to approach the UK Government if primary legislation were required on the date of elections, for example, or even on the voting system, which is an issue that I know greatly exercises many Labour Back Benchers. The Scottish Parliament’s role would also be limited to approving or disapproving rules made by Scottish Ministers, and it would have no opportunity to shape them through its own primary legislation. Furthermore, the Bill would require that Scottish Ministers must consult the Secretary of State before making any of these rules.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has said something that jarred with the logic of his argument. He is obviously speaking about an independent country that has its own Parliament when he says that the Parliament should decide the electoral system. Does he not accept that as this Westminster Parliament is sovereign, it is right that we decided the system—although I do not agree with it, in particular the additional Members who were added instead of bringing the numbers down to the figure proposed in the first Bill? Does he not accept that it is right that this sovereign Parliament should decide how people are elected to the devolved Parliament, as the reality is that we do not have an independent Parliament in Scotland?

Pete Wishart: Of course the hon. Gentleman and I differ as to how we would like this whole process to develop and the sort of Scotland we would like in the future, but my view is still very much that any self-respecting Parliament worthy of that name must be responsible for its own arrangements. That is just how things are done, and I believe the Scottish Parliament should have that responsibility.

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Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Why, therefore, have the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues north of the border in his Scottish Parliament not processed the whole question of having a referendum on what he is talking about?

Pete Wishart: Actually, I have had a look at the calendar, and I see that there is to be an election in about eight short weeks’ time, when these very issues will be debated and voted on. I also foresee a groundswell of support for the position I am advocating and a diminution in support for the hon. Gentleman’s position.

Through our amendment, we intend to fulfil the general drift and thrust of the Gould report recommendations, and to implement what has already been established in the major recommendation of the Calman commission report, which comes close to what the Scottish Parliament’s Scotland Bill Committee is proposing. The amendment also puts the voter at the heart of the process, because that is what is required. The interests of the voters come first, and they were short-changed and badly let down by what happened four years ago. Radical work was required in order to address that, and thank goodness we have the work and recommendations of Ron Gould.

I see no good reason why Westminster should remain in charge of Scottish elections; I see only the predictable knee-jerk response that this place needs to have some sort of say and role in Scottish elections. To devolve not even all the administration of Scottish elections, as was suggested by Calman, is bewildering and contrary to everything proposed. The Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee is now saying that the devolution of administrative functions is not good enough and the Secretary of State needs to look at this again. The Committee went even further and said that before we even implement clauses 1 and 3 the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government should be consulted and we would review this once again. It also raised many of the Electoral Commission’s concerns in respect of the electoral management board—that is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

For all those reasons, I ask the Minister to re-examine this clause to see what can be done. Let us have a proper debate about what the will of the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee is and what Calman intends in all this. Let us give proper constructive consideration to ensuring that all arrangements to do with elections, be they about electoral administration or legislative competence, can be moved to the Scottish Parliament. I ask hon. Members to support new clause 5.

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): I am delighted to support amendment 10. It would be disappointing if we judged whether or not it was valid on the basis of what happened during the previous Scottish Parliament elections. I am sure that many hon. Members in the Chamber can come up with a compendium of reasons why that count was a disaster. All political parties in this House have to accept some responsibility for the ballot paper, which has been identified as one source of the problem, because we all consented to it. We also put our faith, wrongly, in an IT system that did not work. We could perhaps accept that there is an excuse for its not working, given the complications involved in a Scottish Parliament election as a result of different votes being counted,

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different constituencies and so on, but that same IT system was tried out in a local council by-election in my constituency and it took us nearly five hours to get the result. The only good thing was that this occurred in the full presence and glow of the electoral commissioner with responsibility for Scotland, John McCormick, and his senior members of staff. They realised then, if they had not already done so, that that electronic system of counting was not yet usable for future elections.

It would therefore be unfortunate if we said that one of the reasons why we do not want overnight counts relates to that disastrous night, although the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is right to identify the number of ballots that were lost—people’s votes that were lost. Ron Gould fell into the trap of stating that that was the reason why overnight counts were not wanted. He did not look beyond a particular set of circumstances on a particular evening when a series of issues arose that, in retrospect, could perhaps have been dealt with differently.

I have been astonished by the reaction of returning officers. For most of my political life, they have been able to deliver an overnight count without any great anxiety about whether or not staff had to work overnight, yet they have suddenly decided, in their wisdom, that they do not want to accept the responsibility of an overnight count. It came as a surprise to many of us before the last election that what we thought was a given—an overnight count—was no such thing. We then discovered that returning officers had it in their power to decide when they wanted to count an election for this or any other House. With the greatest respect to returning officers across Scotland, I do not think it should be their responsibility to decide when the count should take place. It is for this Parliament to decide when an election count should take place and I hope that the Government will consider the amendment seriously and will look at how they engage with returning officers, because, as we found out before last year’s general election, custom and practice will not be good enough.

5.15 pm

Mr Donohoe: I wonder whether returning officers would be so keen on that if they were to forgo their wage for the election if it was to be held during office hours.

Mrs McGuire: Knowing my hon. Friend’s grasp of the political minutiae of local government and returning officers, I am sure there is deep insight in those comments, but I am not quite sure what it is at the moment—unless he wants to explain his point in a way that I might understand.

Mr Donohoe: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again. If returning officers are going to work office hours to do the count, rather than overnight, they should not get any additional money. In those circumstances, perhaps we would save money if we moved the count.

Mrs McGuire: I understand now exactly where my hon. Friend is coming from, and I am sure that he would never have put forward that argument when he was a full-time officer of the National and Local Government Officers Association, but I will let that one stick to the wall.

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There are all sorts of reasons why we should insist on an overnight count. Sometimes, we say that there is disillusionment in politics, but one area of excitement, even if it is only mini-excitement, is in waiting for the overnight count, and that is not just for apparatchiks and anoraks such as ourselves in the House. I think you would be amazed, Ms Primarolo, how many people like to listen and wait for election results to come in. Indeed, the figures show that.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): May I confirm my right hon. Friend’s point about excitement? I remember wondering last Thursday, or in the early hours of Friday morning, “Will the Liberals come second or third in Barnsley, or will they come fourth or fifth?” But then, ecstasy of ecstasies, it turned out that they came sixth. The excitement built throughout the night, and that is why it is essential to have a count overnight.

Mrs McGuire: I could not agree more. I not only waited until the television report had nearly finished, but then went upstairs to listen to the result coming through on Radio 5, and then promptly fell asleep.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Such was the excitement.

Mrs McGuire: Indeed, but I was delighted that when I awoke, what I at first thought was a dream was in fact reality—Labour had not only won that by-election but had won it with an increased majority and an increased percentage of the poll, and a member of the coalition parties had come further down. However, I see that I am taxing your patience a little, Ms Primarolo.

I want to highlight the Electoral Commission’s comments. I am a wee bit surprised by the attitude it has taken in not supporting overnight counts, and I feel it has based its assumptions on what happened in the last election, four years ago. It makes a good point in saying that returning officers should not be expected to conduct parallel counts for the first-past-the-post and regional lists, but it is a bit disappointing that it has not recognised that part of the culture of elections in this country, and in many others, is sitting and waiting for the overnight results to come in. That happens in American presidential elections and others.

Mrs Laing: Does the right hon. Lady agree that although the excitement is certainly important to people like us who are involved in these matters, it is not just a matter of excitement and media presence? It is also about good electoral governance, good management of the electoral process and bringing conformity right across the country. Last year, we discovered that returning officers had held themselves responsible for what happened in their area and that many of them refused to be told or to behave in the way that the Electoral Commission thought they should. Is it not therefore up to this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament literally to lay down the law so that there is conformity of action in every election taking place at the same time?

Mrs McGuire: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. Like her, I do not want to overplay the excitement, in spite of our reflections on last Thursday night, because sometimes we can get carried away with that.

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The continuity of the election process and the election day is important. The election day does not finish until there is a declaration of the count. It is also necessary to give people the confidence that when they put their vote in a ballot box, which is sealed, it is resealed at the close of play and transported immediately or as quickly as possible—if the two are not mutually exclusive—to the count. Part of our historic attitude to elections is the speed with which we can get the individual’s vote from the place in which it was cast to the place of the count.

We should recognise that, for the most part, we are not talking about transporting ballot boxes in the depth of winter. These elections are conducted in the spring. I have a constituency which, as some colleagues are no doubt fed up with my telling them, is the size of Luxembourg. I know that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) has a constituency that extends far wider than that, but in the case of my constituency, we are talking of a distance of some 65 miles, and I have never heard of any difficulties in transporting the ballot boxes in reasonable time from outlying villages such as Tyndrum in the most northerly part of the constituency down to Stirling for the count.

Mr MacNeil: Although I am enjoying the marvellous nostalgia of election night, does the right hon. Lady see any role for electronic voting, which would give an instantaneous result?

Mrs McGuire: I am not into the Simon Cowell approach to voting. Some of our younger colleagues who entered the House at the last election might see that in the future, but I do not have as much confidence in voting by mobile phone as the hon. Gentleman may have. We must make it as easy and straightforward as possible for people in varying circumstances to cast their vote. That is why the extension of postal voting has been such a welcome addition.

We should consider seriously the way in which the House wants to see its elections and the count of those ballots conducted. I would be disappointed if we based all our analysis on the situation that arose four years ago. It was an unusual situation. There was a coincidence of circumstances which made the count difficult. If the Government are serious about achieving consensus on a major constitutional issue, I hope they will not just rely on the good will of electoral returning officers, but take account of the will of the House, which is, I hope, to count our ballots overnight for the Scottish Parliament elections.

Michael Connarty: It strikes me that all political parties are like Simon Cowell—they want the person they own to win whatever campaign they are involved in, so we have a vested interest, although I would not go as far as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) might go.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) was right about the myths regarding the errors of 2007, as if it was all down to the ineptitude of the Scotland Office at the time, or of the returning officers. It is clear that the complication in 2007 was the counting of two ballots for two different purposes on two different mandates, combined with the construction

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of a ballot paper that did not make sense to the elector and clearly, in the count that I watched at great length until I retired to bed at about 4 am, was not fully understood by the returning officer in my area.

Mr MacNeil: To be clear, by electronic voting I do not mean the Simon Cowell, light entertainment version, but the serious version used in many countries around the world.

Michael Connarty: I know a little about that, as my son lives in Australia, which has a totally electronically registered electorate who all must register and vote. He travels a great deal all over Australia with his job and finds absolutely no difficulty in voting, because he can pop into any electoral office in any town at any time up to three weeks before a ballot and cast his vote for the area in which he lives, so it is a very sensible system. It is surprising that we have not caught up with the technology. It would certainly be a great advantage if we did, as that might engage people much more in the ballot.

The idea that we had a problem because we counted overnight is wrong. Although those of us who soldiered on might not have been quite as excited by the process as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), it was clear to us that the muddle was created by there being two ballot papers. The other question relates to the training of returning officers, because I do not think that the returning officer I watched was competent enough to deal with the ballot, and some crazy errors occurred. For example, he did not tell a candidate who had lost in a council election going on at the same time that he had lost by one vote. The candidate did not discover that until the next day and so was not allowed a recount. Whether that was the result of incompetence, or just the fact that the returning officer was so fatigued that he wanted to get home to his bed and not have another recount in that crazy system running parallel to the Scottish election is another problem.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) seemed to argue that at whichever level an election takes place—Scottish Parliament level or UK Parliament level—that level should have control over its own type of ballot. By that argument, local councils would be put in charge of their elections and allowed to decide all the things that have been argued for, including exactly who would be elected, how they would be elected and what the franchise would be. That is a nonsense. Presumably for Scottish Parliament elections it would be the First Minister who decides, certainly in the present Scottish Government, as only one person seems to make all the decisions in that Government. Those aspects must be determined by the level above that being elected. For example, the Scottish Parliament, quite correctly, controls the methodology for local elections, just as this sovereign Parliament, which set up the Scottish Parliament, should decide if it wishes to change that, possibly in negotiations. That is not saying that there is not a dialogue to be held, but the idea of putting it down does not make much sense.

Therefore, I support the amendment. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling said, the important point is that when people put their ballot papers in the ballot box, they expect it to be transported securely to the place where they are to be counted. One of the reasons why that was set up for UK elections was to let

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people know that ballot boxes are not stored somewhere else where they might be tampered with, so there is no split between the process of voting and the process of counting. To push that back to the next day is to add to people’s cynicism about how elections are conducted and how the count comes out.

It is clear to me that the lesson we should learn from 2007 is that we should not have two counts on the same evening. Therefore, we should not have the two processes of electing representatives and choosing the method of election at the same time. That argues strongly against the Government’s proposal to have a referendum on a voting system on the same day as the Scottish elections, because that is asking people to postpone the count for the electoral amendment to the next day. It might be fine, because I think that it will be the great yawn of the century—I can just see people getting as excited as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North about exactly what little deviation in the electoral system they will be allowed in the process of choosing which system to use.

Mr Davidson: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Michael Connarty: I have startled him into an intervention.

Mr Davidson: My constituency is Glasgow South West.

That was not a deviation. Was it not a major result? One of the country’s governing parties came not even second in a by-election, and not even third. If I remember correctly, it was not even fourth or fifth. [ Laughter. ]It is indeed laughable that it came sixth. I believe that it beat the Loonies, but only barely because there was some blurring at the edges. Is that not worth being excited about?

Michael Connarty: Obviously, my hon. Friend is the Member for Glasgow South West, and I do apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), who has offices across the corridor from me. I should really remember that.

A change to AV would not have helped the Liberal Democrats in that election, and any such change will probably not help them in the future, either. The point that I am trying to make is a very serious one, however. To have two different ballots, a referendum on a voting system and a vote for an elected chamber, is to mix up the purpose and focus of the electorate on that day, but that might be the reason behind it all. The possibility of not coming sixth and getting a few votes as the minor party in the coalition might be the reason for holding the two ballots on the same day, but that certainly argues for splitting the process. In the proposals before us, we say that the count for the Scottish Parliament should take place overnight, which is quite correct—and basically no one really cares what happens to the referendum.

5.30 pm

Mr Davidson: We have to ask ourselves a fairly simple question about when the count is held: for whose convenience are elections run? There is a view, very strongly held, that elections are run for the convenience of returning officers. I do not take that view; I tend to think that people generally want elections run for their convenience. A tradition has developed over a long

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period, whereby those who do not follow an election overnight wake up in the morning and hear the result, and I see no good reason why we should not make that stipulation. Of course professionals and those who are competent at, and have experience in, running elections should have a say in how polls are carried out, but they should not be the tail that wags the dog.

That is one of the issues, however, because if we have an election management board, with the role of the Electoral Commission being brought into question, it must be under democratic control; it must not be self-employed and able to set its own rules according to its own convenience, because its view of what is best will often be determined by self-interest.

I understand, however, that the Government are about to announce a change in the rules about the announcement of by-elections, so that when the Government, particularly the minority governing party, have a successful result along the lines of that in Barnsley, it will be announced some two days after hell freezes over. That does not seem to be an appropriate outcome. Not only did the junior partner in the coalition—this cuts coalition—come sixth; it has been suggested that it came sixth only because the Scottish National party was not standing, and that support for the SNP in Barnsley would have been far greater than that for the Liberals. I can understand that.

I was interested to see that the UK Independence party—basically the British National party with suits—beat the Conservatives, which again tells us something significant. People do find that quite exciting and stimulating. I want to ensure, however, that the Government’s position is that two ballots should not be conducted at the same time, because, unless the Government change their mind, the Scottish Parliament elections and the AV referendum will be held on the same day. I hope that we can secure the commitment that they will be counted separately, because most of us want to see the Liberals get a kicking twice, and it would greatly spoil our enjoyment if the results came out at the same time. People in Scotland want to be able to say no to separation, no to cuts, no to the coalition and no to AV, and they need the announcements to be clearly separated.

Finally on the issue of delay, I am old enough to have read about John F. Kennedy’s presidential election. The result turned on Illinois, and in Illinois the result turned on Chicago. Chicago, despite being an urban area, was about the last area to announce its vote, because the Democrats held the results back until they found out how many votes they needed to win that state and, hence, the American presidential election. Thankfully, we have always been free of any such suggestion in this country, but it will be considered a possibility if there is any undue delay. It is therefore important to proceed with the count as quickly as possible.

I would like to remind people of the excitement that they, too, felt when they heard the result of the Barnsley by-election. I do not know whether I have mentioned this, but the junior partner in the coalition did not come anywhere close; in fact, it was sixth. I do not have the figures with me, but I suspect that it was only the votes of a couple of households, and the fact that the SNP did not stand, that stopped it coming 10th out of nine candidates.

David Mundell: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Evans. It is always a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee. I thank the hon. Member

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for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) for his good advice, which, as he said, he garnered during his sentence at the Scotland Office.

While Ms Primarolo was in the Chair, Mr Evans, I tried to seek some guidance on the SNP position in respect of this Bill, because, as those of us who were present during its Second Reading will know, the SNP declared it to be unacceptable. However, I am afraid that that clarity was not forthcoming.

Pete Wishart: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not only the case that the SNP found the Bill in its current, unamended form to be unacceptable, but that the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee made many recommendations that have significantly improved it?

David Mundell: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Bill Committee. I sought from him, and again he refused to answer, clarification on whether he would accept that Committee’s report, and whatever the vote of the Scottish Parliament is, rather than pursuing amendments that even his colleagues on the Committee did not pursue.

Pete Wishart: The right hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the Secretary of State of State for Scotland, has said to me and to this House that he is not of a mind to accept all the recommendations from the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee. How can we make up our minds if he does not tell us what is and is not going to be accepted?

David Mundell: The Secretary of State made it clear in his written ministerial statement that the Government will give serious consideration to all the amendments and issues raised in the Bill Committee because we respect the work of that Committee and the work of the Scottish Parliament; we do not pick and choose to meet our own political ends.

Mr MacNeil: Is the right hon. Gentleman accepting or steamrollering the will of the Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee?

David Mundell: The Government are looking forward to the debate in the Scottish Parliament later this week when it will consider the legislative consent motion coming forward from the Bill Committee. It will be very interesting to see how the SNP votes in that debate.

Clause 1 transfers to Scottish Ministers certain Executive functions relating to the administration of Scottish Parliament elections that are currently the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Members will wish to note that the Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament accepted this provision in its report on the Bill. However, as has been mentioned, the report also asked for consideration of a number of related issues such as the procedure for filling any regional seat vacancy during the life of a Parliament, the rules relating to disqualification, and reciprocal consultation. I wish to reaffirm that the written statement from the Secretary of State makes clear our commitment carefully to consider those recommendations, including those relating to this clause. The Scottish Parliament will vote on the Bill on Thursday, and we await the outcome of that vote.

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The clause will enable Scottish Ministers to make general provision by order for the conduct and administration of elections to Holyrood, subject only to some necessary constraints. This power includes making provision about supply or otherwise dealing with the electoral register, the combination of Scottish Parliament elections with other elections falling within the legislative competence of the Parliament, and limitation of candidates’ election expenses. However, some elements of the powers will remain the function of the Secretary of State—that is, the franchise and the power to combine Scottish Parliament elections with other reserved elections. That will ensure that issues of constitutional importance continue to be dealt with by the UK Parliament. The Scotland Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament recognised and accepted the continued reservation of those matters.

Amendment 10, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said, would require Scottish Ministers’ first conduct order under the new powers to include provision requiring returning officers to start the count at Scottish Parliament elections within four hours of the close of the poll, or to publish a statement explaining why they were unable to do so. It is important to clarify at this point that the amendment would not apply to the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections.

I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, which has been set out eloquently by the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). The drama and excitement of election night and the wish to know the election result as soon as possible are vital parts of our political heritage. I want returning officers to listen to what has been said in this debate. As hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies know, Mary Pitcaithly, the chairman of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, will be available to Scottish MPs to discuss the arrangements for the forthcoming Scottish elections at a meeting at the Scotland Office later this week. I am sure that the point about overnight counts will again be forcefully made.

In a recent response to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, I suggested that he and his colleagues should lobby for overnight counts. I had noticed that the counts in Conservative-led council areas such as Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders and South Ayrshire were scheduled to be overnight counts, and that Labour predominated in the council areas that were on the list of counts scheduled to happen the following day. I therefore thought that he might be able to bring more influence to bear than I in those areas.

Cathy Jamieson: I hear what the Minister is saying, but does he not agree that the best way to ensure that overnight counts take place is to pass the amendment and put it in the Bill, rather than simply exhorting to people and leaving the discretion to them?

David Mundell: The hon. Lady cannot have heard me say that the amendment would not apply to the 2011 election. I am surprised that she, of all people, takes the view that when we are devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament on this matter, we should curtail them. Once the powers have been devolved, it will be perfectly possible for the Scottish Parliament to take account of the representations that have been made from certain

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quarters, where there is clearly an equally strong feeling about overnight counts. Passing this amendment would be contrary to the spirit of devolving responsibility for these matters to the Scottish Parliament. I certainly hope that we will not see support from the Scottish National party for such curtailment of a newly devolved power.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): Does the Minister agree, given the strength of feeling that has been clearly shown across the Committee this afternoon, that this matter should be left to a free vote for Government Members? This point elicits a great deal of excitement and passion among Members, so it would be appropriate to deal with it on the basis of Members’ own judgment, rather than on a party political basis.

David Mundell: From the hon. Lady’s experience of the Scotland Office, she will know that this is a debate not about the merit of overnight counts, but about whether the Scottish Parliament, in gaining new powers over the administration of elections, should have those powers constrained in respect of an election that is likely to take place in 2016.

5.45 pm

It is not about the count on the night of 5 May 2011. I advise the hon. Member for Glasgow North and other Labour Members to come along and speak to Mary Pitcaithly later this week and reinforce the strength of feeling that exists for overnight counts for elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Davidson: Does the Minister believe that it is right that elected Members of Parliament should have to lobby an unelected bureaucrat about the way in which the elections should be conducted? I appreciate that the change in the rule will not apply to this year’s elections, but it is unfortunate that we have got ourselves into a position whereby the best that the Minister can suggest is that we go along and lobby a bureaucrat, no matter how worthy.

David Mundell: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that since it was first suggested that few overnight counts would take place in Scotland for the election of 5 May, the number has grown significantly, partly because of the expression of public opinion. Today’s debate and some of the eloquent contributions that we have heard will further reinforce that. Passing the amendment this evening will not move the matter forward because it will have no impact on the count.

Mrs McGuire: Would not it be a clear declaration of intent by the House to the returning officers that we expect them, even in the absence of a legal instruction that they must do it, to hold an overnight count for elections to the Parliament of Scotland?

David Mundell: I trust the Parliament of Scotland to set its own rules for the elections in 2015 or 2016. That is why the Government support devolving the power.

Mrs McGuire: I fear that the Minister may have missed my point. I recognise his legal and technical argument that the matter will be the Scottish Parliament’s responsibility in 2016, but surely some seven or eight

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weeks away from the potential for counts to be postponed until the next day, we should send out a message from this House that we expect an overnight count.

David Mundell: The right hon. Lady’s comments, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest and others will have sent that clear message to returning officers.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): The point at issue is whether the Scottish Parliament should have the right to make those decisions. The Bill grants those powers. The second question is how we get what we all want: an overnight count at the forthcoming election. Does the Minister have any power under other primary or secondary legislation that he could use to make that happen so that we do not send a message, but just make it happen?

David Mundell: I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but I believe that we can all play a role in ensuring that it happens through the force of our argument. Again, I invite colleagues to join me and others at the meeting with the chairman of the Interim Electoral Management Board.

Stewart Hosie: The Minister is doing a stoical job in trying to defend the indefensible, but the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) is right. Notwithstanding the fact that we want everything devolved, not just the administration, the clearest signal that we are backing public opinion in wanting an overnight count would be voting for amendment 10 and allowing the Scottish Government to make the decisions thereafter.

David Mundell: I do not know why I should be surprised at the SNP’s voting against more powers for the Scottish Parliament in an attempt at gesture politics, in which its specialises.

The SNP referred to new clause 5, on which we will vote on the third day of Committee proceedings. That would give the Scottish Parliament full legislative competence for the Scottish Parliament elections. That goes far wider than the Calman commission’s recommendation to devolve only the administration of elections. The Government gave careful consideration to the extent of the powers to be devolved on the evidence provided to the commission, and we believe that the proposals in the Bill strike the right balance. Devolving elements of responsibility for the administration earlier, as was outlined earlier, is consistent with the Calman commission’s principle—

Pete Wishart: What extra value does the Scotland Office bring to elections in Scotland?

David Mundell: This will not be the first time during the Committee’s discussions that I refer to the fact that the SNP declined to take part in the deliberations of the Calman commission, and indeed set up its own national conversation. Many issues on which SNP Members now claim outrage could have been fully debated if they had raised them at that time. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the commission.

Stewart Hosie: The Minister says that the SNP declined to take part in Calman. He will, I am sure, want to confirm for the record that the Government refused to

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accept all the Calman recommendations, and that the Bill does not go even as far as Calman suggested it should.

David Mundell: Given the hon. Gentleman’s thorough research into all matters on which he speaks, I am sure he has read in detail the Command Paper that accompanied the publication of the Bill, in which the Government set out their response to each and every Calman recommendation, and how, whether in legislation or otherwise, those are being taken forward.

Government amendment 29 to clause 3 is technical and ensures that when Scottish Ministers make orders about the administration of Scottish Parliament elections, they can include the type of technical supplementary provision set out in section 113 of the Scotland Act 1998. For example, Ministers could make different provisions for different purposes or make consequential or savings provisions. The amendment also ensures that any criminal penalties imposed in such an order are subject to the appropriate limits. It gives Scottish Ministers the same supplementary powers and constraints as currently apply to the Secretary of State when he makes provision on the administration of Scottish Parliament elections.

I commend clause 1 to the House and urge the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) to withdraw his amendment.

Tom Greatrex: We have had an interesting start to the Committee. The Minister will have heard the concern of Members of both sides of the House at the possibility that overnight counts will not happen. In all candour, it is not good enough for him to stand at the Dispatch Box and suggest that we go and lobby Mary Pitcaithly on Thursday on the matter. We have the opportunity now to set a position that the Minister voted for in relation to elections to this House, which is a perfectly responsible position.

The Minister would do well to listen to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). I apologise to her, because I was unaware that the wording of amendment 10 is borrowed from her. I hope she feels emboldened enough to vote for it. I have heard her argue against the Government on other occasions, but she has felt unable to follow through and vote against them. I hope she has the confidence to do so today.

This issue is at the heart of electoral administration. As I said, at every set of elections, electoral administrators say, “We don’t want overnight counts. We can’t do it for reason A, B, C, D, E or F.” The proof is not in what Ron Gould says, but in what we all witnessed in May last year. If we set a position, the electoral administrators can get on with it. Let us make that clear for the Scottish Parliament elections as well as for other elections.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 206, Noes 298.

Division No. 215]

[5.54 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Cairns, David

Campbell, Mr Alan

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doyle, Gemma

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Havard, Mr Dai

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Mr Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Tami and

Phil Wilson


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bagshawe, Ms Louise

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, Damian

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Philip Dunne and

Bill Wiggin

Question accordingly negatived.

7 Mar 2011 : Column 684

7 Mar 2011 : Column 685

7 Mar 2011 : Column 686

7 Mar 2011 : Column 687

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Combination of polls at Scottish Parliamentary and other reserved elections

Tom Greatrex: I beg to move amendment 11, page 3, leave out lines 4 and 5.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: clause stand part.

New clause 7—Timing of the Scottish Parliamentary general election—

‘(1) Section 2 of the 1998 Act is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of subsection (2) there is inserted “or unless the poll is advanced or delayed as a result of the operation of subsection (6A) below”.

(3) At the end there is added the following new subsection—

“(6A) If the poll to be held under subsection (2) or subsection (5) above is in the same calendar year as an early parliamentary general election under section 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the Parliament may by resolution appoint an alternative day for the poll for the next Scottish Parliamentary general election no more than 12 months earlier nor more than 12 months later than the day appointed under subsection (2) or subsection (5) above and at least 6 months before or after the

7 Mar 2011 : Column 688

parliamentary general election, and the day so appointed shall be treated as if it had been proposed by the Presiding Officer under subsection (5) above.”’.

Tom Greatrex: Amendment 11 and new clause 7 are probing amendments regarding the potential for elections to happen on the same date. In the previous discussion, we heard a lot about the Gould report and the issues encountered in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections. Ron Gould concluded that one of the primary problems was a combination of elections on the same date, and that has been implicitly recognised by the Secretary of State in some of his discussions about the potential clash arising from the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. Despite the fact that there are a number of concerns, this issue has been included in the Bill not because of something that Calman deliberated on, but because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill going through Parliament. That would not, of course, be an issue if that Bill had proposed a four-year term, because a four-yearly cycle for the Scottish Parliament elections and a four-yearly cycle for the UK Parliament elections would mean that the elections would always be at different times. That is why we tabled the amendment. As every authority questioned by the Select Committees that have examined the issue has said, there is very little, if any, precedent for a five-year term, and a four-year fixed term is much more appropriate. That is why I raise the matter today. New clause 7 is also relevant to the potential problems created if an extraordinary general election for the UK Parliament were to take place under a coalition Government, for example.

Mr Davidson: Surely there is a logic to having a five-year term. If one part of the coalition has come third in a by-election and another part of the coalition has come sixth it, it is quite understandable that they are in no hurry to have an election.

Tom Greatrex: The Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, might well be thinking about how long he might be able to continue as Secretary of State, and what my hon. Friend says could well be one of the reasons for that stance. If we are in a position in which an extraordinary general election has to take place, new clause 7 would provide the opportunity to deal with it in a way that is appropriate for both the Scottish and the UK Parliaments and would save us from having to conduct both elections in the same year. It deals with the problem of confusing the issues of the two different elections and should help us to avoid the problems experienced in 2007, when having two electoral systems for different Parliaments at different elections caused some confusion. It is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that people are made aware of how their elections work and to make those elections as straightforward as possible. That is the intention behind amendment 11 and the accompanying new clause 7, which deals with extraordinary circumstances.

David Mundell: This clause amends the Representation of the People Act 1985 to provide that when a Scottish parliamentary general election and a parliamentary general election or a Scottish parliamentary general election and a European parliamentary general election are to be conducted on the same date, they should automatically be taken together. It will also allow for

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the polls to be combined if the returning officers so agree where polls for related areas are taken on the same day—as, for example, with a Scottish Parliament by-election and a parliamentary general election.

Amendment 11, as proposed by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), would remove the mandatory requirement that where the polls at a Scottish Parliament general election and a UK Parliament general election fall on the same day, the administrative arrangements must be taken together. The amendment would not stop the polls taking place on the same day, however, and it leaves returning officers with the discretion to combine the polls if they think fit to do so. Alternatively, if they are not combined, various processes such as the issue of poll cards and postal votes or voting at polling stations would have to be run side by side.

As it stands, the clause will allow poll cards, postal voting materials and polling stations to be shared. It effectively streamlines the process of organising and running the two polls on the same day, avoiding potential duplication of functions where polls held on the same day would otherwise be run in parallel and it enables overall costs to be reduced. If two polls fall on the same day, for whatever reason, electoral administrators agree that combining them is the best option. It makes it simpler for the returning officer to administer and, more importantly, makes it easier for voters to cast their votes at both polls. If the intention behind the amendment is to stop the polls taking place when both elections fall on the same day, it does not work. If the intention is to make it easier for the voter, that, too, I would suggest, does not work.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I would like to offer some anecdotal evidence from my constituency at the general election. That poll coincided with a local government poll. The arrangements were that postal ballot papers for the local election were sent out earlier than those for the general election. A number of electors expressed their confusion and asked why they had only one ballot paper when they were expecting two. The imperative of combining the two elections in one is incredibly important.

6.15 pm

David Mundell: I thank my hon. Friend for his valuable insight based on his personal experience.

In addition, if the intention of new clause 7 is to avoid the poll at a scheduled Scottish Parliament election from falling on or close to the date of the poll for an early parliamentary general election held under clause 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, it does not work.

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab): I appreciate that the clause will not apply to the next Scottish election, but there are difficulties in Aberdeen where we have the forthcoming vote on AV and a vote on the Scottish parliamentary elections, which require two ballot papers. Sadly, one of the Liberal Democrat councillors died recently, as a result of which a by-election is also likely to be held on 5 May. The electorate in Aberdeen are thus looking at four separate polling formulae under different systems. The Minister used the word “streamline”

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earlier, so will he help me by explaining how we are going to streamline the elections in those sorts of circumstances?

David Mundell: The arrangements for the conduct of the Scottish Parliament election and the AV referendum allow for a council by-election to be held on the same day. As I understand it, that by-election will take place on the basis of one form of the alternative vote system.

Mr Doran: But there is a worry that we should use separate arrangements when there are that number of elections all taking place on different bases on the same day.

David Mundell: On the specific case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, representations can be made to the returning officer, because the polls are not required to take place on the same day. The by-election poll does not have to take place on 5 May; it is a decision for the returning officer. That by-election poll should also take place in a separate polling station, although possibly within the same building.

Mr Doran: As I understand the current law on local government by-elections, the election must be held within three months of the death or resignation of the councillor—except when there is also a UK parliamentary or Scottish parliamentary election. In this particular case, except at extraordinary expense, the returning officer does not have much option.

David Mundell: I think the returning officer has some option, but the hon. Gentleman raises an important and relevant point about the multiple electoral systems operated in Scotland. I had just mentioned that Scottish council by-elections, which are another example of polls that could be held on the same day as the AV referendum, take place under a form of the alternative vote rather than the single transferable vote.

Jim McGovern: Is it not the case that we are effectively putting a price on democracy by saying that it is simply cheaper to have all the polls on the same day?

David Mundell: I do not believe that is an accurate summation of the position. The clause allows for the combining of polls and the amendment suggests that they should not be combined. However, I do not accept that the amendment is successful in that regard.

If new clause 7 is designed to avoid having a poll at a scheduled Scottish Parliament election following on or close to the date of the poll for an early parliamentary election held under clause 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, it does not work, as I have said. By its very nature, an early parliamentary general election held under clause 2 will take place at short notice following either a motion of the House that there should be such an election, or at the end of the 14-day period after a motion of no confidence.

In the unlikely event that a Prime Minister were to decide on a campaign period of at least six weeks before the date of poll at the early parliamentary general election, which would be the minimum to ensure that the Scottish Parliament had not already dissolved, the parties taking part in the Scottish parliamentary general election would have already gone to significant expense in preparing campaign literature and making other

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arrangements, as would returning officers. All that would be wasted if the Scottish Parliament then decided to change the date of poll. Returning officers might also have started the nomination processes and, depending on timing, might have already entered into contracts for printing and accommodation, the costs of which would, again, be wasted.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Surely the logical conclusion of the Minister’s argument is that we should have four-year rather than five-year fixed-term Parliaments. Would that not be an easier way in which to solve the problem?

David Mundell: As the hon. Lady will know, what she suggests was debated extensively in the Chamber during the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, and the House delivered its view then. As she will also know, last Thursday the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to ask the United Kingdom Government to move the date of the Scottish parliamentary election in 2015 to avoid a clash with the United Kingdom general election. The motion stated that the Scottish Parliament

“notes the potential clash of UK and Scottish general election dates in 2015; invites the UK Government to set the next Scottish general election after 5 May 2011 for Thursday 5 May 2016, and looks forward to UK Government consultation on a legislative provision that would set apart UK and Scottish general election dates on a permanent basis.”

I am sure that Opposition Members welcome the fact that the coalition Government have consulted the Scottish Parliament fully on the matter, because it was raised in a number of debates.

Tom Greatrex: Surely the Minister accepts that the Scottish Parliament felt the need to come up with that motion only because of the potential provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. If the Bill had provided for a four-year fixed term, there would be no problem. The Government still have an opportunity to revisit that possibility, and I hope that they will take it.

David Mundell: The issue of the length of a fixed-term Parliament was well argued during the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, and the fixed term that Parliament has determined is five years. The Government have therefore embarked on an active discussion of the matter with the Scottish Parliament.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): My maths is not always fantastic, but I suspect that in 2020 we shall encounter exactly the same problem, because the Westminster Parliament will last from 2015 until 2020, and the Scottish Parliament will last from 2016 to 2020. Are the Government considering a permanent extension of the Scottish Parliament’s term to five years?

David Mundell: As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of possibilities have been suggested, and the Government have said that after the Scottish parliamentary election, there will be a consultation on them. Some Members of the Scottish Parliament have said that they would like it to serve a five-year term, and that view will obviously be considered.

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Tom Greatrex: I thank the Minister for giving way to me again. He is being characteristically generous. Surely he accepts that there would be no need for so much consultation and juggling with all the possible ways of dealing with the problem if a four-year fixed term were proposed for this Parliament as well as the Scottish Parliament. He has an opportunity to make that case to his colleagues in Government, so that the issue can be dealt with when the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill returns to this House. Will he take the opportunity to make sure that that point is made?

David Mundell: I see no purpose in a rerun of the debate on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. The views expressed by the hon. Gentleman have been expressed by others, but they have not prevailed in votes in the House. The Government have set out what I consider to be the strong arguments for a five-year term for this Parliament. Because of the complicated devolution settlement in the United Kingdom, which has its own nuances—I welcome them, because they accommodate the different needs of different parts of the United Kingdom—consequential changes would inevitably be required. We have discussed the changes required in the timing of the Scottish parliamentary election and the best way of resolving the issue in a mature way through a dialogue with the presiding officer and party leaders in the Scottish Parliament.

Mrs McGuire: Does the Minister not accept that in trying to extend the life of this Parliament to a term that bears no relationship to any other element of our electoral process, the Government have created a series of problems not just for themselves but for other parts of the democratic process? The result has been a number of ill-considered consequences to which the Minister and the Government attempt to apply Elastoplast every time they encounter them. This is a very expensive way of providing a lifeboat for the coalition Government to take them through to 2015.

David Mundell: I would take what the right hon. Lady says a good deal more seriously had the last Labour Government not extended their own life to virtually the last minute of a five-year term. That opened up the possibility of another five-year term for this Parliament, leading to a coincidence of elections with the Scottish Parliament elections in 2015 that would have taken place in an unstructured and unthought-out way. The Bill has dealt with the possible repercussions.

Mrs McGuire: Will the Minister reflect on the facts? There have been two five-year Parliaments since 1992, one under the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major and the other under a Labour Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). The Minister’s argument has no credibility. He and the Government have created a series of consequences by trying to introduce a five-year fixed term for the current Parliament. Everyone else is being forced to alter the ways in which they operate in order to suit the coalition Government.

David Mundell: I am afraid that that is merely a smokescreen for the fact that there could have been a coincidence between the Scottish parliamentary and Westminster elections in any event, and that arrangements would have had to be made to deal with it.

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Thomas Docherty: The Minister said earlier that the Government had given some consideration to the idea of moving the Scottish parliamentary elections to 2021. He will be aware that the next local government elections are scheduled for 2021. It may interest Members to know that several years ago, in the Scottish Parliament, a certain David Mundell introduced a Bill to decouple the Scottish Parliament from the local government elections. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what his position on the issue is now.

David Mundell: My maths is better than the hon. Gentleman’s. I knew that already, and I knew that these were exactly the sort of matters on which discussion and dialogue were needed. It is much better for that discussion and dialogue to take place in a structured way than for it to take place on the ad hoc basis that would have been required if there had been a coincidence of elections on the basis of the arrangements that existed before the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. That Bill allows these matters to be addressed, and discussion and dialogue to take place. I believe that the mature way in which that dialogue with the Scottish Parliament has taken place reflects well on the coalition Government.

Ann McKechin: Does not this debate show that a draft Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which would have allowed consultation to take place between all the relevant bodies affected by the legislation in advance of it being brought to this House, would have been the most sensible way forward?

6.30 pm

David Mundell: Once Parliament had determined the nature of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, the appropriate thing to do was to enter into the mature and sensible dialogue that we have had with the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the motion in the Scottish Parliament was passed unanimously. The Government will take forward the wish of the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the next Scottish Parliament election after this one will take place on 5 May 2016, on the basis that voters going to the polls on 5 May 2011 will know that they will be electing their MSPs to serve for five years.

I do not feel that the amendment would achieve the objectives that it sets out to achieve. It could lead to a lot of wasted expenditure for candidates, parties and returning officers, and I accordingly commend clause 2 to the Committee and urge the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West to withdraw his amendment.

Tom Greatrex: We have had an interesting debate on these issues. I would just note again that, if there had been a proposal for a four-year fixed-term Parliament, none of this would have been a problem. That would probably have been a more sensible route to take, and it is still open to the Government to deal with that matter again in the weeks to come. In the light of what the Minister has said, we will withdraw the amendment at this stage and perhaps reflect on the matter again on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn .

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 3

Supplementary and transitional provision about elections

Amendment made: 29, page 3, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 113 of the 1998 Act (subordinate legislation: scope of powers) for subsection (1) substitute—

“(1) References in this section to a power are—

(a) to an open power,

(b) to any other power to make subordinate legislation conferred by this Act which is exercisable by Her Majesty in Council or by a Minister of the Crown, and

(c) except in subsection (9), to the power of the Scottish Ministers to make an order under section 12,

and include a power as extended by this section.”’.—(David Mundell .)

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause s 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill .

Clause 6

Bills: statements as to legislative competence

Tom Greatrex: I beg to move amendment 12, page 4, line 36, at end add—

‘(1A) In section 31(1) of the 1998 Act, at end add—

“(1A) A person promoting an amendment to a bill in the Scottish Parliament shall on or before the lodging of the amendment state that, in his opinion, the bill if amended in accordance with the amendment would be within the legislative competence of the Parliament.”.

(1B) In section 31(2) of the 1998 Act, at end add “and state the reasons for his view.”.’.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Tom Greatrex: We have had the opportunity to discuss a number of amendments with interested parties, including the Law Society of Scotland. This amendment relates to the statements of legislative competence that are made in the Scottish Parliament. The Minister will be aware that, before introducing a Bill in the Scottish Parliament, it is the responsibility of Ministers there to issue a statement of legislative competence. It is also the responsibility of the Presiding Officer to make a similar declaration. The amendment deals with a situation in which amendments are tabled to such Bills, either by Ministers or by Members, including to private Bills. For example, the Bill on the Forth road crossing is a private Bill. Many Members’ Bills are also dealt with in the Scottish Parliament.

It is important that, when the Scottish Parliament deals with legislation, it is aware that it is competent so to do. It is also important that the measures that come before it are appropriate. That has not always been the case for amendments, however. Our proposal also deals with Government amendments. A number of Bills, particularly technical Bills, have had a whole series of Government amendments tabled for which no declaration of competence has been made. It has therefore fallen to the Law Officers to consider those issues, post-stage 3 and before Royal Assent. Our proposal would enable that problem to be rectified, and would introduce a

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degree of consistency to the arrangements. This would bring confidence and competence to the work of the Scottish Parliament when legislative matters were brought before it.

David Mundell: As the law stands, only those members of the Scottish Government in charge of a Bill have to make a statement on its legislative competence when introducing a Bill in the Scottish Parliament. Clause 6, which amends section 31 of the Scotland Act 1998, will ensure that anyone who introduces a Bill in the Scottish Parliament is confident that it is within the Parliament’s legislative competence and prepared to make a statement to that effect.

The Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee supports the amendment, agreeing with the Calman commission that a statement would provide a helpful and public indication that the legislative competence of the Bill had been carefully considered by those introducing it. The Scottish Parliament endorsed the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s report on 29 September 2010.

Amendment 12 would require that the Member promoting the Bill must make a statement, when or before every amendment to a Bill is lodged in the Scottish Parliament, that, in his opinion, the Bill, if amended in accordance with the amendment, will be within the legislative competence of the Parliament. That would make the Scottish parliamentary system overly bureaucratic and complex and it is, in my view, unnecessary. Should there be any concerns about the legislative competence of a Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament, which might have been substantially amended during its passage, UK and Scottish Law Officers may refer questions of competency to the Supreme Court for decision under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998.

The Calman commission also considered the argument that the Presiding Officer should state his reasons when making a positive statement about the legislative competence of a Bill—that is, a statement that the Bill is, in his view, within competence. This was rejected on the basis that it can be relatively easy to give reasons for thinking that a Bill is outside competence, which the Standing Orders currently require the Presiding Officer to do, but more difficult to give reasons why it is within competence. The commission’s other main doubt was that exposing to public view any grey areas in relation to competence could provide ammunition to those who were politically opposed to the Bill, either during its passage or later, by providing the basis for a legal challenge. As the Calman commission reported, it would remain open to the Presiding Officer to add reasons to any positive statement about the legislative competence of the Bill, but concluded that it was unlikely that he would do so. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment to a Division and to support clause 6.

Tom Greatrex: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, although we reserve the right to revisit the matter on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn .

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 7

Partial suspension of Acts subject to scrutiny by Supreme Court

Tom Greatrex: I beg to move amendment 13, page 5, line 28, after Officer’, insert ‘and the Law Officer making the reference under subsection (1)’.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 14, page 5, line 30, leave out ‘Edinburgh Gazette’ and insert ‘Belfast Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the London Gazette’.

Amendment 15, page 5, line 31, leave out ‘considers’ and insert ‘and the relevant Law Officers consider’.

Clause stand part.

Tom Greatrex: We have discussed amendments 13, 14 and 15 with a number of bodies, including the Law Society of Scotland, and we are attempting to clear things up and respect the doctrine of the separation of powers, so that the Executive can take responsibility for publishing references made by them in relation to the suspension of Acts subject to scrutiny by the Supreme Court. The Bill currently stipulates that the Presiding Officer shall publish the notice of any reference to the Court in the Edinburgh Gazette, and in other ways as he or she considers appropriate. As the Minister will be aware, the references will be made by one of the Law Officers, be it the Attorney-General, the Lord Advocate or the Advocate-General. Our contention is that the Law Officer making the reference should also have the responsibility to publish the fact of the reference, whether by publication or on a departmental website, so that it is not left to the Presiding Officer.

Amendments 14 and 15 deal with the publication of the notice, which the Bill currently states should be in the Edinburgh Gazette. To ensure consistency of approach, we suggest adding the London Gazette and the Belfast Gazette to the list of publications in which a reference must be published. That is significant, particularly as we are dealing with issues that are potentially subject to a reference to the Supreme Court.

Pete Wishart: There has been a lot of talk about the Supreme Court in the past week—it even reached First Minister’s questions last Thursday—whether in connection with the limited references to it, or its being the final port of call for appeals in criminal cases. We need to know exactly what is going on. There has been talk of a number of secret clauses that have been proposed by the Advocate-General. As we understand it, they seek to remove the High Court of Justiciary as the final court of appeal for criminal cases in Scotland and to transfer limited responsibility to the UK Supreme Court. I want to know from the Minister whether those clauses exist. If they do, when will they be introduced? Will this House, as a body of elected representatives from Scotland, have the opportunity to discuss them? Just what will be the general process?

Jim McGovern: The hon. Gentleman mentions secret clauses, but he seems to know what they are, so just how secret are they?

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Pete Wishart: I am not in the fortunate position of having seen those secret clauses, although I know of others who have, and they have caused them concern. However, we are discussing a Bill that has always been described as effecting the most significant transfer of powers since the creation of devolution 10 years ago, but we are doing so under what might be described as a cloak of secrecy. We have not had a chance to see those clauses. Why have they not been introduced? Why have we not had the opportunity to see them, and if they are to be introduced, when will we have the opportunity to debate them?

We have a number of issues with clause 7 that the Minister should consider before we proceed. In effect, it would transfer new, significant and substantial powers to the Law Officers of Scotland. The clause proposes an entirely new mechanism that would allow the Law Officers new responsibilities when it came to legislation, by having the authority to identify provisions in a Scottish Bill that they considered would not be affected by a reference to the Supreme Court. As I am sure we will hear from the Minister, the intention is to allow the Law Officers to refer a part of a Bill to the Supreme Court without affecting the remainder. However, the proposal has come out of nowhere, other than the fevered, exercised minds of the legal establishment in Scotland. It was certainly not considered by the Calman commission, which made no such recommendation. It has simply appeared in the Bill, and I would like to know exactly where it came from.

6.45 pm

The proposals in this clause raise a number of issues of principle and practice. There is simply no precedent for such an approach, and it is unclear what the status of the provisions affected by such a reference would be in law. It is for Parliament or the Government to decide when and how to implement legislation, not the courts. The clause re-describes the relationship between the legislature and the Supreme Court, yet it does not respect the separation of those roles. The clause would also allow the Law Officers to be judge and jury when deciding what the “unaffected provisions” were, and so decide which could or could not come into force. As I have said, these are substantial and significant new responsibilities for the Scottish Law Officers.

The proposals in clause 7 could also remove from Parliament and the Government the ability to judge on the overall coherence of legislation, and could have implications for the overall will of Parliament. They would also mean that, in making the call on whether to make a general or limited reference, the Law Officer concerned would need to assess whether the affected provisions were central to the Bill or whether it could proceed to Royal Assent without them. We know from our consideration of this Bill that Parliament considers Bills as a whole. Bills contain packages of measures, and support for a Bill as a whole may rest on the inclusion of matters of interest to Members which are not linked to its drafting. The proposals in clause 7 would create uncertainty and bring into question the status of Scottish Parliament legislation in a quite unacceptable way. They would also allow for changes in the law affecting the responsibilities of the courts and the Law Officers.

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The clause is both unnecessary and undesirable, and has the potential to disrupt the good governance of devolved Scotland. I hope that the Minister will take a further look at it, because as it stands we have real difficulties with what is being proposed.

David Mundell: We have heard some unusual contributions from the Scottish National party, in this and other debates, but declaring amendments that the Advocate-General has published on his website to be secret is one of the more extreme. Indeed, I understand that there was an exchange in the Scottish Parliament last week during which, while protesting about the secrecy of the amendments, the First Minister had to concede that he had seen them.

I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are debating important issues, in that they relate to the laws and judicial system of Scotland, and that is why, in relation to proposed amendments to section 57(2) of the 1998 Act, the Government have adopted a consultative approach. He will be aware that the Advocate-General set up an advisory group to look into the issue. That group came back with certain views, which led to the formation of the clauses concerned, which are now the subject of further discussion and debate. They are not being moved in Committee in this House and are not part of our consideration of clause 7, and they are not referred to by amendments 13, 14 or 15, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex).

Pete Wishart: The Scottish Parliament’s Bill Committee has expressed great concern, because it cannot make any judgment on those secret amendments in its legislative consent motion. If those amendments are not to be introduced in Committee in this place, when will they be introduced? When will we, as elected Members, have the opportunity to debate and discuss them? What is the process for introducing those amendments? [ Interruption. ]

David Mundell: The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) tempts me to answer that it is a secret, but it is not. Rather, it is part of the full legislative scrutiny of the Bill. As I suggested earlier, and as the Secretary of State’s written ministerial statement suggested, we take the issues raised by the Committee, and the specific issues raised in relation to the clause, very seriously.

Cathy Jamieson: It might be helpful for those who are not au fait with all the technicalities if the Minister confirms that these specific clauses are not dealt with in the legislative consent motion that will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, and that a further LCM will be required.

David Mundell: That is a helpful intervention, because the LCM that will come before the Scottish Parliament this week relates to the Bill as published, and as scrutinised by that Parliament’s Committee—and also by this House. The LCM the Committee promotes suggests that if there are significant changes to the Bill—and, of course, the proposed amendments to section 57(2) of the 1998 Act would be significant—there would be another legislative consent process with the Scottish Parliament. The Government are clear in that regard. Also, as I understand it, the Scottish Government do not support the LCM promoted by the Committee.

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Pete Wishart: When and where is the Minister going to introduce these measures, if, indeed, he is going to introduce them?

David Mundell: As I have suggested—as have the “secret” ministerial statement the Secretary of State made last week, the “secret” LCM Committee report, and the “secret” clauses that are on the website—the coalition Government are engaged in consultation and dialogue on these clauses. Indeed, so generous are we in that regard, that we will even take on board in our considerations the points the hon. Gentleman makes on these matters, but these amendments are not being moved at this stage. There is a further very significant point, which I would have thought would have satisfied the hon. Gentleman given the respect he has for the Scottish Parliament and its views: a further LCM would be required from the Scottish Parliament if significant amendments were being made in relation to section 57(2).

Stewart Hosie: Given the time scales, will it in fact be the next Scottish Parliament after the election in May that will have to consider a further LCM, were one to be requested if such amendments were going to be considered?

David Mundell: The hon. Gentleman is very astute: yes, there will be a Scottish Parliament election on 5 May, and, yes, the current Parliament will be dissolved on 22 March. It is therefore very likely that there will be another Scottish Parliament in place, but this coalition Government respect that Parliament and whatever Government emerge of whatever political colour, and we will engage in a constructive dialogue with whoever is in power in Holyrood.

On the Opposition amendments, currently entire Bills of the Scottish Parliament can be delayed, possibly for months, should just a single provision be referred to the Supreme Court to determine whether it is within legislative competence. Clause 7 of this Bill will amend the 1998 Act, not in the nefarious way the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) suggests, but in a positive way, to prevent unnecessary delays to Bills where the majority of provisions are considered to be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The affected Bill would be submitted for Royal Assent by the Presiding Officer, while the disputed provisions would not come into force until the Supreme Court had reached a decision and Scottish Ministers had made the appropriate commencement order. The UK Government believe this is the most appropriate and sensible method of helping to ensure that the work of the Scottish Parliament runs as smoothly as possible. Members will wish to note that the Scotland Bill Committee in the Scottish Parliament accepted this provision, but asks for consideration to be made of the legislative procedure used. We will review that recommendation carefully.

The amendments would require the Law Officer making the limited reference, in addition to the Presiding Officer, to publish notice of the reference in the Edinburgh Gazette and also in the London Gazette and Belfast Gazette. Clause 7 already requires the Presiding Officer to publish notice of a reference in the Edinburgh Gazette and in such other ways as he considers appropriate. It does not prevent the Presiding Officer from publishing notices in the London Gazette or Belfast Gazette, or in any other paper or on any website, or in any other way he should wish—even secret ones.

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Thomas Docherty: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can satisfy a curiosity of mine. What is the Edinburgh Gazette, and where may one attain a copy of it?

David Mundell: The Edinburgh Gazette is one of the few newspapers in Scotland in which the hon. Gentleman does not appear. It is a formal publication in which formal Government, local authority and other governmental notices appear. I understand that it can be subscribed to, although it is not regularly available in most newsagents in Scotland. There is also a person with the title of the Queen’s Printer for Scotland, who may also publish notice of the reference in such ways as they consider appropriate.

Pete Wishart: Is it not possible that the Queen’s Printer may be abolished under the Public Bodies Bill? What would happen then?

David Mundell: I will look into the hon. Gentleman’s specific query and write to him on it.

A requirement on the Law Officer to publish the notice of the reference would lead to three different people being responsible for publishing the same notices, and could be considered overly complicated and unnecessary. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) to withdraw the amendments and to agree to clause 7. I hope I have been able to ease the concerns of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire in respect of possible future amendments to section 57(2) by confirming that the Advocate-General has set up an expert group to look into the issue, and that the group came forward with proposals that were put into the public domain and shared with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament Bill Committee. They are still under consideration, which is why they are not being introduced into this House; we accept that these are important issues on which there should be full discussion, but that discussion is not yet at a sufficiently advanced stage for it to be appropriate to introduce amendments. On that basis, I commend clause 7 as it stands to the House.

Tom Greatrex: I am disappointed in some of the Minister’s responses. I am aware that there is no preclusion on publication in the London Gazette or Belfast Gazette, but, in the interest of transparency, it would be a step forward if the publication were extended, particularly given the issues under consideration. He also rightly said that this means that at least two people have responsibility and perhaps we may consider a further amendment subsequently to deal with that point.

7 pm

I had an inkling that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would discuss the secret amendments. Although the Minister may have had a bit of fun about the definition of “secret”, they suggest that a lack of thought went into the processes that the Government have followed. If they wanted to avoid some of the hyperbolic language from the MSP who spoke to the Scottish Affairs Committee last week or the week before, it may have been sensible for them to have published those draft amendments, to have had a short consultation on them and then to have introduced them to the Bill at the right time. Scrutinising the Bill is very important and although there will be an opportunity

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to come back to those amendments, it would have been much better if we had seen them by now and been able to discuss them in this Committee. I reserve the right to come back to my amendments on Report, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Air weapons

Tom Greatrex: I beg to move amendment 17, page 7, line 26, after ‘weapons’, insert

“except those intended to be utilised in recognised international sporting competitions”.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 38, page 7, line 26, after ‘air weapons’, insert

“below a muzzle energy of 6 ft/lbs”.

Amendment 3, page 7, line 27, leave out from ‘1968’ to end of line 34.

Amendment 18, page 7, line 34, at end add—

‘(1A) The Secretary of State shall have the power to issue regulations to deal with any cross-border issues arising from the operation of this section including but not limited to issues arising from the transport of air weapons from, or their use in, Scotland and England and Wales.’.

Amendment 39, page 7, line 34, at end add—

‘(2) The use or possession of air weapons as defined in subsection (1) above which were acquired before the coming into force of any Act or other legislative instrument of the Scottish Parliament made as a result of this section shall until then continue to be subject to any regulations made under the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997.’.

Clause stand part.

Tom Greatrex: There has been much discussion of this issue and I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute to this part of our consideration today, so I shall keep my remarks brief. This emotive issue was considered in detail by the Calman commission and I know from my own experience that lengthy discussion has taken place involving the Scotland Office, the Home Office and, on various occasions, the Scottish Government on issues associated with the control of air weapons. The current definition of “air weapons” has often been raised and I was slightly surprised to see that the Bill uses the 1968 definition, because an issue had previously arisen regarding the proper definition of “air weapons”. I am sure that other hon. Members will deal with that in greater detail. I took the opportunity at today’s Home Office questions to ask the Home Secretary when she planned to review that definition and one of her Ministers said that he was not sure but he would come back to me on it at some point. We need to be confident that the definition is appropriate in respect of what the Calman commission recommended on air weapons and therefore what the Bill tries to do.

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Amendments 17 and 18 do not relate to that issue but are probing amendments dealing with a couple of specific areas, one of which is the treatment of air weapons for recognised sporting events and what happens when people travel to the Commonwealth games or another event through England and into Scotland. Amendment 18 deals with cross-border issues—for example, what happens when an airgun is licensed in Scotland but not in England and someone from England takes a weapon without a licence north of the border. The Minister represents a rural constituency on the border, so I am sure he will be aware of the potential for some of these issues to arise. The amendment seeks to ensure that there is a mechanism to deal with any of those issues. I am well aware that other hon. Members wish to discuss this matter in much more detail, so I shall draw my comments to a close.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I wish to speak to my amendments 38 and 39. I do so as chairman of the all-party group on shooting and conservation, the secretariat for which is provided by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the specialist shooting body. The BASC has briefed me on these matters and I took some of its members to see the Secretary of State last week, when they were able to put the technical arguments against this matter being included in the Bill and thus becoming a devolved matter. I shall use the latitude that the clause stand part debate provides to make that argument, as well as the one for my two amendments.

My two amendments are straightforward. Amendment 38 seeks to withdraw all but the least powerful air weapons from these arrangements. Amendment 39 goes some way towards dealing with the cross-border issues that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) described and with the issue of weapons being legal in England and Wales but becoming illegal in Scotland if the matter were devolved and the Scottish Parliament were to use its powers under the Bill.

In arguing against this becoming a devolved matter, it might be useful if I put the whole thing into context. Shooting contributes £240 million to the Scottish economy and airguns are the entry point into the sport. It is estimated that there are some 500,000 airguns in Scotland, compared with 4 million to 7 million in the UK as a whole. They are owned for a variety of lawful purposes, such as target shooting and pest control. The majority of airguns do not carry any serial or other identifying number, and very few need to be held on the authority of a firearms certificate because their capacity is below 12 ft/lbs. The location of nearly all current owners is unknown.

Some 52% of all Scottish airgun crime takes place in the Strathclyde police area and this appears to be an urban problem, rather than a countrywide problem. The call in this Bill for the devolution of airgun legislation has been made following the tragic death of two-year-old Andrew Morton, who was shot with an airgun by 27-year-old Mark Bonini, a drug user from Glasgow. The subsequent tabloid outrage and a campaign by the Scottish nationalists has resulted in a “Scottish appetite” for airgun legislation to be devolved, despite the fact that the current criminal justice system worked by sentencing Mark Bonini to life imprisonment.

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There is therefore really no need for any further amendments to the firearms legislation. Numerous pieces of legislation are available to the police across Great Britain to deal with the misuse of airguns and three further pieces of airgun legislation have recently been passed by Westminster: the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, and the Crime and Security Act 2010. The Scottish police can also use the offence of reckless discharge, which is not available south of the border.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman said that 50% of these incidents took place in the Strathclyde police area and that there was some sort of link with this being an urban crime, not a rural one. Given that the Strathclyde police area stretches from the Dumfriesshire border with Ayrshire into the lowlands of the highlands, I am puzzled as to how he makes that link between urban crime and the Strathclyde police area.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: It comes from the number of offences that have been reported—no more, no less. The average number of Scottish airgun offences per annum since 1996 is 565 and the number of incidents has been falling since 2006-07.

The apparent rise in the use of airguns is likely to be the result of improved police reporting procedures, but other weapons, especially knives, are much more likely to be used in homicide offences in Scotland and, indeed, elsewhere. There is nothing peculiarly Scottish about airgun controls or crime, so there is no justification for creating a system for Scotland that differs from the current regime in England. It is not enough for Ministers to wash their hands of it on the ground that the democratic process will produce the right answer. The campaign for the devolution of powers regarding airguns has been fuelled by tabloid scaremongering such as that around the recent incident in Auchinleck in Ayrshire. It was initially reported that 18 schoolchildren had been shot by a sniper armed with an airgun equipped with a muzzle, but it later turned out that eight children had been hit by plastic pellets from a BB toy gun.

The coalition has rightly resolutely opposed knee-jerk legislation on firearms that is not based on sound evidence. The Calman commission produced no argument for devolving powers on airguns beyond the statement that

“there is appetite to deal with airguns differently in Scotland.”

I submit to the Minister that that is not a good basis for legislating on this matter. The commission produced no evidence to back that up.