Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Perth: I shall not divide the Chamber on the issue at this rather late hour. It is true that it has

1 Jul 1997 : Column 178

been covered. However, I hope that all Members of the Committee will read Hansard and note what is in my opinion an unsatisfactory answer to my amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 7, leave out ("Parliament") and insert ("Assembly").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will be pleased to know that the amendments in the group are identical. They are simple and brief. Their significance is in inverse proportion to their length.

The issue is this. What are we being invited to bring into being? Perhaps I may revert to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who I see is once again in his seat. The issue is germane to the Bill. What we are discussing are the words on the face of the ballot paper, which I submit are misleading. The reason for the large group of amendments is simple. In order to have consistency throughout the Bill we need to make the amendment in a series of different places.

The argument for this amendment has already been put forward on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, made it earlier in the debate on the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made similar points, as have other Members of the Committee. What will be the body that it is suggested that we bring into being? Is it actually a parliament?

I was brought up to be a simple, straightforward countryman. I suspect that my view of Parliament is that held by many people across the length and breadth of this land. In saying that, I do not refer just to England but to Scotland, Wales and that part of Ireland which is appropriate; and it may even be that the Irish in the rest of Ireland hold a similar view. The English Parliament is rather special and rather particular. It is known as the Mother of Parliaments. It has been the basis on which democracy has been spread across the face of the globe in the past 50 years. Where democracy works successfully, it is where it closely parallels the organisation that we have in this country. The first thing we have is a bicameral organisation. I shall not get into a debate as to which House within the bicameral organisation is supreme and which superior. I think we know the answer: one is superior and the other supreme.

Having said that, Parliament works because it is democratic. It works because the electors, the elected representatives who are their servants and their elected representatives choose a government. I know that we have a party system which corrupts that, but it is what is supposed to happen. The Government are the servant of Parliament, the servant of the whole of Parliament, not exclusively of the elected representatives. Still less is the relationship the other way round, which has increasingly been the trend of modern times and which is regrettable. That is what I and the majority of people understand to be a parliament. But it is not what we are bringing into being. Whatever else it may be, it is not that. It is also the international perception of the best way of constructing a parliament. For that reason, I do not like the wording that we have.

1 Jul 1997 : Column 179

Of course, it could be argued that there is a difference between what is happening in Scotland and what is happening in Wales. It could be argued that the Scottish assembly--I would prefer that word, as my amendment suggests--will have legislative powers. I have had a lot to do with local government which can bring in by-laws; so local government--if that is a definition--is, in a sense, a parliamentary form, but it does not bear the word "parliament" and it works extremely well without it.

Exactly the same point could be made with regard to tax-raising powers. Local government used to have far greater tax-raising powers, only constrained by the capping regime. If there is any local authority left in this country which is not constrained by the capping regime, such authorities have greater freedom of power over taxation than it is suggested the new body for Scotland will have.

So I seriously suggest that to put on the face of the ballot paper that a Scottish parliament is being created is misleading. I hope that the Government will consider the amendment seriously. I am quite happy to relieve the Minister of one burden in his reply by saying that at this stage the amendment is a probing amendment. I look forward to hearing what is said this evening on the subject. When I have read it all and considered the matter further, it is only fair to say that I may wish to bring it back. But at the moment it is a probing amendment.

Lord Hughes: Before the noble Lord concludes, more than once he referred to the "English Parliament" instead of the "UK Parliament". Part of the trouble in Scotland is that too many people consider that the UK Parliament acts as if it were an English Parliament.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I stand corrected and regret my error. Of course I meant to refer to the United Kingdom Parliament. If I inadvertently gave the wrong impression, I am happy to withdraw the phrase and put the correct one in place. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I do not find myself in agreement with the amendments. I was slightly puzzled by something that was said in the introduction to the amendments. I may be mistaken but I understood the noble Lord to say that a bicameral situation was essential for a democratic parliament. I know many countries all over northern Europe where there are perfectly good democratic parliaments. None has a bicameral parliament. I am thinking of all the Nordic countries, none of which has a bicameral arrangement. So I do not think that that is an essential element for a democratic parliament. Let us get that out of the way, to start with.

As regards substituting the word "assembly" for "parliament", I shall be brief because it is late. There are two powerful reasons for the proposal. The kind of powers we plan to give to the Scottish parliament make it absolutely appropriate that we use the word "parliament" and not "assembly". It is important to do so for the Scottish structure, in order to differentiate it from the Welsh assembly which, as the noble Lord

1 Jul 1997 : Column 180

pointed out, has quite different powers. So it is very different. They are two different words for two quite different structures. That is the first point.

The second point is that it is quite important to get everybody's mind--including the minds of noble Lords in this Chamber and those in another place as well as the minds of the people in Scotland and Wales--off 1979. It was a Scottish assembly then. This is a very different animal that is proposed and it deserves a different name. I see nothing wrong with this body being called a Scottish parliament and I see everything wrong with it being called a Scottish assembly.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, need not be ashamed of referring to the "English" Parliament. Nearly all the English do it. It is a little weakness that they have. They cannot help it. I do not object to it. They are entitled to their little delusions. But it does raise the hackles of a number of Scots and it is unfortunate. It gives rise to much of the separatism in the Scottish National Party. So I have long been for a Scottish parliament. I have always wanted it to be a Scottish parliament; "assembly" does not sound right.

Indeed, for years the Stormont Parliament, which was technically very efficient, was called a parliament. There is a precedent. I do not believe that the name raises any trouble. I am surprised that a man of the noble Lord's perception should not see that it is only right and proper that we should have a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly, if they will accept it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I missed the first minute of my noble friend's speech, for which I apologise to the Committee. This is quite an important matter. People in Scotland have been expecting this body to be called the Scots parliament through the whole story of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. It is the name that they are expecting. What they do not yet understand and must understand before they vote is the relationship of the Scots parliament to the United Kingdom Parliament. That will be very important indeed; otherwise, there will be great disillusionment later on.

That relationship was very well expressed, as my noble friend said, by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. I hope that we shall see that in black and white in some of the public print before too long. It will help everybody to understand that relationship. So long as we have that, I personally do not think that the name matters.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is quite right about this matter. The problem with the word "assembly" is "What does it actually mean?". I think that it means a gathering. It does not have any connotations of a legislative body so far as I know. Historically, it has connotations of social gatherings--the kind of gatherings that took place in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh and in various other towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries. So, we must be careful about this matter.

1 Jul 1997 : Column 181

At the same time, I have reservations about "parliament". After all, "parliament", unless it is a sovereign parliament, seems a bit misleading too. I am in rather a difficulty here.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page