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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall turn now to the number of MPs, which is one of the little surprises in this document, although it was not too much of a surprise because it was leaked all over the Scottish press this morning. We read what we see in the document. Is there any truth that 58 is to be the number? Will the Minister tell me? After all, that was the heavy Scottish Office briefing. Perhaps I may remind him what George Robertson, then the Shadow Secretary of State, said in January 1996:
What has changed, apart from the fact that poor George Robertson was sacked from his Scottish Office brief and sent to defence? What I find interesting is that that is an acknowledgement of the West Lothian question--a question whose existence has been steadfastly refuted over the past 20 years. If it is an acknowledgment, that is good. It is not an answer, because the remaining 58 Scottish MPs will still have the same dilemma: how can they vote on matters that affect England when they have no votes over similar matters which affect their own constituents to whom they are responsible? What does the Minister have to say about that? He can no longer say that it is not a problem, and that it no longer exists, because paragraph 4.5 makes it clear that the Government think that it does exist and that it is a problem.
As to the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland, to whom will he be answerable--the UK Government and Parliament or the Scottish government and parliament? Or will he be a message boy between the two? Will he be bound by the collective responsibility of the UK Parliament? To revert again to the Welsh White Paper, I noticed in that document that the Welsh Secretary will be allowed to attend and speak in the Welsh assembly. Will the same be true of the Secretary of State for Scotland? Does that mean that he will have to go there and answer for what that parliament may think are the sins of the Westminster Parliament?
I am not keen on governments registering political parties. I can see why they need to do it, but we will need to look with a great deal of care and caution at the protections that will exist against a government deciding, because they do not like a party--we may all not like that party--they will refuse to register it. We have to look at that.
That is a bit better than Mr. Tony Blair's statement that, "sovereignty rests with me"; but it is a statement of the truth. Can the Minister say how that squares with the Secretary of State's signing of the "claim of rights" which said that sovereignty rests with the Scottish people? It seems to me that it cannot rest with both: it is one or the other. Can the Minister say which?
I have always felt that this proposal represented a slippery slope. I have always been upheld in that view by the fact that the Scottish National Party is very keen to support devolutionary proposals. In fact, the Government are very keen to get that party on board on the "Yes, yes". Therefore, the SNP will campaign for a "Yes, yes", wanting to drive the UK apart, while the Government, in their campaign for a "Yes, yes", will say that they do not want to drive the UK apart. The lion may well lie down with the lamb in biblical terms, but I am not sure that a unionist can lie down with a separatist.
I know that the Minister and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr. Donald Dewar, are men of honour. I know that they genuinely believe that if they do not go down this devolution road the Union will break up. I do not agree with that view. I believe that we are on far safer ground where we are at present, with Unionists among us, holding the arrangement of one United Kingdom Parliament. I believe that it would strengthen the Union if we were all to do so. The very fact that the SNP has actually gone backwards since it won 11 seats in 1974 illustrates that its threat is not nearly so great as the Minister and his party seem to fear.
As I said, I know that the Government believe that what they are doing here will strengthen the Union. If this proposal comes into being, I earnestly hope that they are right. However, if I may say so in the Scots tongue, "I hae ma doots".
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, this is an historic day for Scotland and not a day for nitpicking. I believe that the White Paper will be widely welcomed and very thoroughly debated in Scotland; and, indeed, in this House, as well as the other place. We in this party have espoused the Scottish self-government cause over many decades and we are glad to have played some part in the fruition of the White Paper. The Statement made by the Secretary of State, and repeated in this House by the Minister, correctly pays tribute to the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Indeed, the whole basis of the legislation rests on that work which was painstakingly carried out over some four or five years.
It is right that the Government claim in the Statement to have improved on the proposals of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. Perhaps I may give a particular welcome to the announcement in the White Paper that there will indeed be a reduction in the number of Scottish Members in the other place. That has always seemed to me to be totally correct. However, I have to say that we lost that argument in the convention and I am delighted that wisdom has finally dawned on the Government. They have agreed that, while it is not an answer to the West Lothian question, it is a mitigation of it to reduce the number of Scottish Members in Westminster so as to be on a par with those in England and Wales.
My one point of puzzlement on the latter is, why leave the actual number to be decided by the Boundary Commission. Surely that is a matter of political judgment. I see the noble Lord the Leader of the House shaking his head, but I remind him that we had a Royal Commission on the constitution in the 1970s. It came up with a specific recommendation in that respect. Therefore, why not found on that rather than leave it to the uncertainties of a non-political body to decide on the actual number? The principle should be that the number be reduced so that, now that we will have our own Parliament, Scottish Members at Westminster will no longer have smaller constituencies than those in England and Wales. That principle is one of political judgment. It is a new and welcome one from the Government's previously espoused position, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.
Will the Minister confirm that there are other substantial differences between what is proposed this year and what was put to the Scottish people in the legislation of 1979? In particular, the proportional representation system is, to my mind, of crucial importance. I say that because if one studies the referendum results of 1979, one finds that there was great suspicion in the outlying areas of Scotland, including the area that I represented, about the proposals. As they stood in 1979, those proposals could have led to a minority among the population capturing a majority of the seats. It was a real fear that the Scottish
A second advance which was not mentioned in the Statement--but one I am sure the Minister will confirm--is something that, again, will make a difference. I refer to the fact that in 1979 we argued for a third tier of government in Scotland, because we had two tiers of local government. From his own experience, the Minister will know that, because we now have a single tier of local government in Scotland, we are operating against a quite different background. We do not propose to have three tiers of government; indeed, there will in fact be two in Scotland--the national parliament in Edinburgh and a single tier of local authorities.
The third difference is the taxation powers. I was not present in the Chamber for the interesting debate which took place the other day on the issue. I hope that the Government will indeed reverse the amendment passed in another place and that they will leave the question of taxation powers as open as possible within the framework of the agreements in the White Paper.
There is one further point that I would like to draw to the attention of your Lordships' House; namely, that the White Paper is extremely liberal on the question of who is eligible to stand for this parliament. Members of your Lordships' House will be able to stand and that is something of great interest. However, so also will ministers of religion and priests. That is certainly of great interest to certain ministers of religion and priests in Scotland. We do not have a state established church in Scotland. Therefore, this is a welcome and new provision.
I also noticed that European Union citizens who are resident in Scotland will also be able to stand. That means that the noble Lord's Italian waiter, of whom we have heard so much in previous debates, will certainly have that possibility conferred upon him. Indeed, I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, would have given a particular welcome to that provision in view of his obsession with that particular gentleman.
I have one particular suggestion to make to the Government. As they say that they plan to hold the elections in Scotland in the first half of 1999, it seems to me that it would make administrative and financial sense to try to hold these elections on the same day as the European elections which fall due in June of 1999.
On the question of parliamentary premises, I counsel the Government against the dangers of grandiose extravagance. The Scottish people will not want to see a new architectural exhibition in the search for some new building. The public paid for the conversion of the Old Royal High School to a parliamentary chamber back in the late 1970s. I quite accept that it is not adequate on its own as regards the provision of parliamentary offices, but I suggest that a look should be taken at the old Scottish Office across the road. Indeed, it would be
One very important point of principle in the White Paper is that we are to legislate to define "reserve matters" for Westminster and not the other way around. I regard that as a very important point of departure because it means that the Scottish parliament will have a momentum of its own. "Reserve matters" will be specifically allocated to Westminster and the Scottish parliament will be left to get on with every other aspect of life. I believe that to be correct.
I do not share the gloomy view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as regards the possibility of constant unhappiness and dissention over European Union discussions. I look forward to a second visit from the President of the Catalan Government during the referendum campaign when he will visit Scotland. I believe that he will be able to enlighten people like the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as to what actually happens at present in a successful devolved parliament which has benefited greatly from its direct relations with the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, seemed to think that the Scottish parliament would, on occasions, be unhappy. I dare say that it will be; indeed, sometimes this Parliament is unhappy. The idea that this White Paper, or any legislation, can guarantee a state of perpetual bliss in the Parliament of Edinburgh is nonsensical. I believe that we shall see a state of sensible, creative political tension between Edinburgh and London which will be greatly to the benefit of the people of Scotland in particular but also to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
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