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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until nine o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.48 to 9 p.m.]

Scotland Bill

9 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 8 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 10.

Schedule 1 [Constituencies, regions and regional members]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 57, line 7, leave out from ("Islands,") to end of line 9 and insert--
("(c) the Western Isles, and
(d) seventy constituencies covering the mainland of Scotland to be determined by the Boundary Commission for Scotland in a way which ensures that the average electorate for constituencies lying wholly or partly within the unitary local authorities of Highland, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Argyll and Bute, Angus, Perthshire and Kinross,

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Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders are lower than those lying wholly or partly within other unitary local authorities in Scotland.").

The noble Lord said: There are two arguments that I could normally advance on this amendment, but I shall leave one of them until we discuss the next group of amendments. That argument relates to the uncoupling of the membership of the Scottish parliament from the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. I shall leave that until later and concentrate on another aspect, which I believe is very important.

In bringing forward their proposals, the Government have rightly recognised the special position of Orkney and Shetland and decided--and I agree with them--that in the Scottish parliament Orkney and Shetland should be two separate constituencies. As the Committee will know, they have until now been one constituency from the point of view of membership of the House of Commons. It seems to me that the argument for special consideration extends to the Western Isles, which is in exactly the same position. Yet I can see that a future Boundary Commission review might decide, for example, with some logic, to move Skye into the Western Isles, given the very much improved ferry links. I believe that the Western Isles should be separately considered.

I have some special affection for the Western Isles, having stood there in the Conservative cause at one stage. I did not even manage to save my deposit, but I had a very pleasant time, none the less. I was happy to show that there was no rancour on my part when I decided, as the Scottish Health Minister, that they should have a new hospital, and they were kind enough to invite me to the opening of that to show their appreciation. In fact, they still show their appreciation whenever I visit by happily showing me around what they consider is at least partly my hospital. It shows my magnanimous spirit when not only do I give them a new hospital in exchange for not being allowed to save my deposit but am also prepared to say that in the Scottish parliament they should be given the same consideration as Orkney and Shetland.

Paragraph (d) relates to a slightly different issue. It has always seemed to me that the principal talent of Boundary Commission reviews has been to be innumerate. I am amazed at how they have decided to apply the electoral quota in Scotland, not simply on the last review, but time after time.

The electoral quota in Scotland is 54,000. We shall come to other aspects of that when we deal with the next group of amendments. Aside from the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and Caithness and Sutherland, to which a later amendment refers, and Roxburgh and Berwickshire, four clearly rural constituencies, the smallest constituencies in Scotland are those vast tracts of land represented by Glasgow Baillieston, Glasgow Pollok, Glasgow Shettleston, Greenock and Inverclyde, Hamilton South, Midlothian, Paisley North and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth.

At the other extreme, looking at the largest constituencies, in number terms, in Scotland, there is Eastwood. I would not argue about that. It is not as compact as the Glasgow seats which I listed, but it is at

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least reasonably compact. The next one is Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, where there are 66,500 voters, 12,500 above the Scottish quota, and hugely bigger than any Glasgow seat and, I suspect, than virtually any seat in West Central Scotland. The largest seat in West Central Scotland is Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, with 66,500 electors. That is the largest geographical seat.

It seems ludicrous that we should have these large rural seats with large populations while we have city seats with next to no population in comparison. It is not as though the Boundary Commission has decided that the cities need special attention. The average electorate in Glasgow after the previous boundary review was 51,500. Edinburgh seems to have managed with over 10,000 more, at just over 62,000.

I have no faith in the Boundary Commission to look at the map of Scotland and--as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside discussed with regard to the previous amendment--to be fair to the rural areas of Scotland. It is for that reason that I suggest that we should say to the Boundary Commission that it should arrange matters so that the average electorate in the constituencies lying in the highland region, in Aberdeenshire, Moray, Argyll and Bute, Angus, Perthshire, Kinross, Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway should have a lower average than those lying wholly or partly within other unitary local authorities, which are largely the ones in West Central Scotland that I mentioned.

The fact that I am making a brief speech on this matter does not in any way mean that I do not feel strongly about it. I have always felt strongly about it. Indeed, when I was a Back Bencher in the Parliament before last in your Lordships' House, I attempted to persuade my Government to amend the Representation of the People Act to give primacy to the quota and take it away from other things which I believe are of less importance. I am afraid that I was unable to prevail on my noble colleagues and my colleagues down the corridor to accept my amendment. I suspect that they perhaps now regret that a little, but that is another matter. The Minister says that it would not have made any difference, but it would have been for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Here we are to have a new Scottish parliament. If we are all aware, as I believe we are, of the feeling in rural Scotland that the constituencies there may well be dominated by Glasgow and the conurbations, it seems to me important that we give a clear signal to the Boundary Commission that it must not follow in the steps of its previous reviews. I could list the largest constituencies in Scotland to make my point, but I shall not do so.

All I will say is this. How can anybody justify Glasgow Baillieston at 49,000; Glasgow Shettleston at 48,000; Hamilton South--goodness knows why it receives special attention--at 47,000; and at the opposite end of the spectrum, Dumfries with 63,500 and Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber with 66,500. Even if we look at Ross, Skye and Inverness West with 56,000, the figures speak for themselves.

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I hope the Minister will at least express understanding of and sympathy with the point I am making and that we might, even if my amendments are not well drafted, find a way of sending an instruction to the Boundary Commission when it comes to make up the boundaries for the new Scottish parliament after the first time round saying, "For goodness sake, please do your sums, both in number of electorate terms and the size of the seats". I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso: I rise principally to speak to my Amendment No. 9, which is grouped with Amendment No. 8. I was tempted to put my name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, but as I did not understand it when I read it, I thought I should wait to hear the explanation first. Having heard it, I am extremely interested.

There was another reason. As the Clan Mackay's traditional tribal homelands would be partly in Caithness and partly in Sutherland, I felt it would be fun to give the noble Lord a little test with my amendment. Also, as he said, it is difficult to address both of those amendments without straying into the arguments touched upon by the next group. I shall try to limit myself specifically to the point in Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, which are closely linked.

In simple terms, Amendment No. 9 merely adds one extra constituency by dividing the current constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross into two. It is not my intention to suggest that there is a particularly strong case for Sutherland and Easter Ross to be divided into two constituencies. My purpose is to probe the Government on the principles underlying both the composition of the parliament as it will be composed when it is first set up and also the principles as it goes further into the future.

I chose Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross simply because it is my home. I can at least talk about something of which I know a little. The fact that I am chairman of the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Liberal Democrats and came second on the Liberal Democrat Highland list has nothing to do with it. However, in case anybody thinks it might, I mention it.

My purpose is to probe the Government and find out a little more about their thinking on the principles underlying the composition of the parliament, particularly with regard to how we see the constituencies. I have argued on a number of occasions in your Lordships' Chamber--particularly with regard to local government when we debated the constitution in the summer of 1996 before the last election--that the relationship between geography and a sense of community as well as population density when working out the areas which people represent is important.

Local government is an interesting example of how that can work for different areas. For instance, we can take the new council that operates in the Highlands. For most people in the outlying areas it has been extremely unsuccessful. It will be difficult to find anybody from any political party in Caithness who thinks that the Inverness Highland Council works to their benefit. On the other hand, it is clear that the new unitary councils

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have worked well in the central belt and that many of those people are happy with them. Clearly, therefore, there is a difference between how geography and a sense of community comes into play as against population density when looking at how people should be represented.

I ask the same question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--what is so special about Orkney and Shetland? What is the principle behind that which could not be applied to other areas within Scotland? If it is simply a question of numbers, it may be argued that one should not have more than a certain number of people in the Scottish parliament. We have heard people talk about Wales having a certain number and Northern Ireland having more. How many people should be there?

My only comment on that is that I would far rather see people slightly over-represented than under-represented. There is a far greater danger where people feel that there is nobody to whom they can talk; there is nobody to whom they can go--that touches on the earlier argument regarding the links with constituency MPs--there is no one that they feel they own as their member. It is much better if people feel that they can relate to two rather than to none. At the beginning of the parliament I would rather err on the side of having more members than on the side of having too few.

In the debate on the first group of amendments we talked about the systems in other countries. I do not think that we should be looking to other countries for models. I do not think that we should be looking at Westminster for a model. I think we should ask, "What is the new parliament intended to do? What is the function we wish it to achieve?"; and then from that point look at the best way of constructing a model to represent the people. If we found that something that worked in Finland or in the United States of America happened to help us achieve the function which we had determined as being correct, that would be useful. It might even be useful to look at some of the things that happen in Westminster. But it should not be the point of departure. The point of departure should be, "What is the function?", and then we should have the model. It is on that basis that I come back to the question of geography.

When people are represented, certain issues are of a constituency nature. In this connection the question of population is relevant. The work of an MSP who has a constituency of 40,000 may well be less than that of someone who has a constituency of 80,000. Perhaps more important is when one comes to the question of regional interests, which was very much the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. The regional interest that one will find in one area is of equal importance to the regional interest that one will have in another area, albeit that the size of the population is very different.

Here it is perhaps worth looking at another country. In the United States of America the Senate takes the view that the interests of Vermont or Idaho, which are very small states, or Arkansas, where I worked years ago, are identical to the interests of California or

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Florida, which are extremely large states. Therefore, there is an acceptance of the principle that there are certain interests in a given area which are of importance. I share the concern--I will not put it any stronger than that--that the central belt may have an influence above and beyond that which one would like to see. I am trying to find out what importance the Government attach to the geography and to the sense of community which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, an area such as Aberdeen or Caithness has in relation to being represented. That is the core question which the amendment is designed to test.

I wish to make one other brief point. I think there is an error of drafting in line 9 of Schedule 1. Heading (c) states:

    "the parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, except a parliamentary constituency including either of those islands",
referring to the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. I think it should say,

    "either of those archipelagos",

    "any of those islands".
But I think that,

    "either of those islands",
is not strictly correct. I leave the Government with that little thought.

What I should like to hear from the Government is some assurance as to the importance of regional and geographical issues--Caithness is very different from Sutherland and Sutherland is very different from Aberdeen--so that we do not get into the Catch-22 of ever-reducing numbers of seats, a point raised by the next group of amendments about which I have nearly managed to avoid speaking, and so that we do have a strong representation that remains strong.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: I should like briefly to back up what my noble friend has said. I have experience of Caithness and Sutherland, and as I no longer have much connection, I can be frank. There is an enormous difference between Sutherland, which is Celtic and Highland, and Caithness, which is part-Highland and more Norse than anything else and very agricultural. The difference is great. They do not care for each other all that much, which makes it very difficult for the representative there. So I think we need two. My noble friend has a very good point.

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