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Lord Dixon-Smith: Before my noble friend sits down, he might agree with me that the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, answers only half of the West Lothian question. If I remember correctly, the Member of Parliament for Blackburn in Lothian can vote on a matter that affects Blackburn in Lancashire, but cannot vote on a matter possibly affecting schools in Blackburn, Lothian. That will be the situation. Given the noble Lord's suggestion of constituting a second chamber from Members in the other place, that wrong would be corrected. However, if the Member of Parliament for Blackburn in Lancashire cannot vote on a matter affecting a school in Blackburn in Lothian although the Member of Parliament for West Lothian can, that part of the question is not answered.
Lord Desai: I very much sympathise with the idea that the question of a second chamber has to be discussed, and will be discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned the suggestion that the Scottish parliament could make itself into two different sections, one to be a revising body.
What is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in particular in Amendment No. 7, need not delay the formation of a Scottish parliament if we decouple that and say that within five years the Prime Minister will appoint a commission to examine the question of a second Chamber for the Scottish parliament. Constitutional reforms have previously been passed by the Westminster Parliament for countries which became independent. I could give examples, but I shall not do so. It would be easy to say that the Scottish parliament should start on time and should have five or 10 years in which to deliberate, within which time it might itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested, citing the example of the Czech Republic, decide to have a second Chamber. Perhaps the Prime Minister of the day could appoint a commission to consider the question of a second Chamber for the Scottish parliament. That commission might arrive at a decision yea or nay, but we can leave that for a later day and return to this question when we have had experience of the Scottish parliament as a unicameral Chamber. It need not all be done at once.
Lord Sewel: It is clear that we have had a well-measured and constructive debate on this important amendment. It is right that we should take time to explore the arguments on both sides of the case. I have to say though that today is not the best of days to try to persuade me of the value of a second Chamber!
The debate concerns two, often closely related, concepts, those of function and structure. I do not believe that anything divides us on function. There is complete agreement on the need to have a parliamentary structure in which there is proper and robust scrutiny of legislation. The difference between us is on the appropriate and best structure to fulfil that function.
I do not believe, and the Government do not believe, that it is necessary to have a separate second Chamber, following the Westminster model of your Lordships' House, in order to achieve the appropriate and necessary degree of scrutiny. I believe it is valuable to try to move away from the Westminster mind-set and to recognise that there are other ways of organising a legislature.
During the 20 years or so when we were debating this issue in Scotland, there was a growing awareness that it was not appropriate to follow slavishly the procedures and processes that exist in this Parliament. The opportunity arose to try to come up with different types of solutions to what were seen as common and shared problems. That is what happened during the process of the Constitutional Convention.
I appreciate that noble Lords opposite were not part of the Constitutional Convention, and I make no comment about that. Their party thought it was inappropriate to be part of that process. I think it would have been enormously valuable if they had shared in that, but they did not, and that was their choice.
Through the Constitutional Convention, which was widely based, the issue of scrutiny was addressed in great detail, as my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford indicated and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, described. On page 24 of its report, Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right, it is made absolutely clear that in the convention's view a second Chamber is not necessary in order to provide for proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have built upon that consensus. I see nothing wrong in a government building upon consensus, especially consensus that has been built up over time and has been the product of debate, probing and scrutiny.
It was that thinking that lay behind the detailed recommendations that the Government put to the people of Scotland in the White Paper at the time of the referendum. I believe that the people of Scotland are aware--indeed, more than aware--of the basic shape of the proposals that were put to them in the White Paper at that time. It was clear that the Scottish parliament was to be a unicameral parliament and was not to have a second Chamber.
Throughout my involvement and engagement with the devolution issue in Scotland, I have not been aware of any sustained support for the idea of a second Chamber. Over the 20 years or so, the idea has come up from time to time but has quickly disappeared. It is not a concept that enjoys support in Scotland.
I disagree with my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford. I do not think that institutions should be established in order to prevent certain political objectives from being achieved. Like my noble friend, I am totally opposed to the idea of nationalism as a political creed and to separation as a policy objective. But I do not think that it is right somehow to construct the institutions of the parliament to prevent that. Again, I am prepared to put my faith and my confidence in the people of Scotland. At the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that, if the people of Scotland, through whatever process is decided appropriate, opt for independence or separation, then that is their right and I have to accept it, although I disagree with it. We do not get anywhere by trying to construct institutions that will be seen as artificially thwarting it.
I now turn to the details of the amendments. The amendments are in fact devoid of detail, which is important. They refer to the setting up of a commission but are silent on the issues of the powers of the second Chamber and its composition and membership. It took us 20 years to reach a broadly agreed position on the powers and composition contained in the present proposals. I wonder how long it would take such a commission to reach agreement on the powers and composition of a second Chamber.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Gordon that support for this amendment runs the risk--I put it no stronger than that--of being interpreted in Scotland as a means of delaying the implementation of the Scottish parliament. That is something that those who wish to support the amendment will have to take into account when they make their decision. We made clear in the White Paper and subsequently that there is a timetable; that a clock is running. We said that the elections would take place in the first half of 1999. We said that the parliament would be up and running by the year 2000. We now intend to bring that date forward on the basis of agreement among the various political parties. The passing of this amendment as it stands would clearly delay the implementation of the Scottish parliament. I believe that the people of Scotland would find that difficult to understand.
We have had a number of important contributions based on the legislative process--how we can improve and have the most appropriate form of legislation; how it should proceed through parliament. I make one comment on that. I will trust the parliament. Let the parliament decide the processes it wishes to adopt. I believe that we will have a grown-up, mature parliament for a grown-up, mature country. Let us recognise that it is the right of that parliament to decide its own processes and proceedings.
Throughout the whole of the debate on the role and function of the Scottish parliament there was the greatest determination in every group of which I was a member--I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and my noble friend Lord Ewing will agree--to ensure that the parliament adopted procedures which delivered robust scrutiny in the most effective way possible.
The proposals before the Committee have not come out of the ether overnight. They have been developed on the basis of negotiation, discussion and consensus-building over several years. It would be difficult for the people of Scotland to understand the major change in the structure of the parliament which these amendments involve, and much more so a delay in the introduction of the parliament.
Let me deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in relation to other countries. As the noble Lord said, the Nordic countries--Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, which we all accept are mature, effective, functioning democracies--have unicameral democracies. We do not cite them in any way to argue that we should slavishly follow them. We say that it shows that there can be mature and effective democracies, mature and effective parliaments that are unicameral. If it works in that context, in the context of the vast majority of the Germany Lander and in the context of New Zealand, why should it not work in the context of Scotland?
I make one further reference. The structure for the future government of Northern Ireland enjoys widespread support in this Chamber and between the parties generally. The legislative assembly that is to be established in Northern Ireland is a unicameral parliament and I have heard no argument against that during the whole of the discussions on the future structure of the government of Northern Ireland. Therefore, we have seen already that there is acceptance that in the United Kingdom unicameral legislation is compatible with the way in which we have arranged our political affairs.
There are many ways in which the Scottish parliament will be able to adapt its internal structures and procedures to ensure that there is proper and appropriate scrutiny of the legislation and of the executive itself. We have had an exceedingly good debate on the issue and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who took part in this debate and to the Minister for his reply. When I read Hansard, his words in relation to a "mature parliament" will come back and no doubt will be used to haunt him as we go through the Bill. For example, we may well throw his words back at him when we come to Clause 33, among others. However, we will leave that matter until later.
The noble Lord made much of the fact that there was no sustained support in Scotland for a second chamber. I do not believe that there is much sustained opposition either. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who seems to have had the notes to defend the Minister on this issue, said that the Scottish people decided not to have a
We should not allow the Government to hide behind the defence that the question was not asked; therefore it was not answered; and therefore we should not debate it. Nor do I want to hear an argument from the Government, every time we come to a serious amendment, that somehow or other we are attempting to delay the passage of the Bill. I accept that there is a clock ticking towards the end date. I made it perfectly clear that we accept the result of the referendum and the Government's right to take this Bill through Parliament, to implement it and to have the election and the setting up of the parliament on the date they fix. But I hope that every time we come to an amendment we do not hear that we are simply trying to find ways of delaying the passage of the Bill. If the clock is ticking a bit late in the day, it is because it is taking the Government rather a long time to get the Bill into the Committee stage of your Lordships' Chamber. That is not my doing.
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