Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for explaining the position. If he is devolved, I know that he will be welcomed back in this Chamber, although, like the rest of us, he will be on more modest pay and rations than he currently enjoys. He will also be in the fortunate position of not having to stand at the Dispatch Box and answer questions which, from time to time, Government Ministers find difficulty with.

I am not entirely convinced that a great deal has changed over the last 20 years. The office of Lord Advocate goes back for many centuries. To suggest that there has been such a sea change in thinking over the last 20 years or so is not a convincing argument. Equally, I am not convinced that the role of the Scottish

28 Jul 1998 : Column 1464

constitutional convention in this matter is of crucial importance. I may be wrong, but I was not aware of the convention carrying out detailed consultation with those who were actively involved in the criminal justice system. Jim Wallace, who is of course a Queen's Counsel, was an active member. I am not suggesting that there were not others but I have some doubts as to whether this important issue was as fully thrashed out as it might have been to give the decision of the convention, as it is described, quite the significance that the Government appear to have accorded to it.

I acknowledge, however, as I did at the outset of my remarks, that this was in the manifesto. For that reason, I do not think it would be constitutionally appropriate for me to seek the opinion of the Committee. But I have to say, quite frankly, on my own behalf, that long before I read the 1978 White Paper I considered the decision to be wrong. I am reinforced in that conclusion by the views which are set out there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 255C:

Page 19, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) The Parliament may change the terms "Scottish Executive" and "First Minister" to such other terms as it considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: In this amendment we are getting away from the heavy water of legal matters to rather simpler issues which I think I can deal with quickly. I hope that I shall receive a positive reply from the Minister, who will accept my amendment without hesitation! The Committee will recall that we discussed the, in my view, rather odd names that have been selected for the principal people in the Scottish parliament. The "top guy" is to be called the presiding officer and the "top political guy"--if I may call him that--is to be called the first minister. The government, so to speak, is to be called the Scottish executive. As always, when I suggested we might make the names more user friendly, I was chastised by the Minister, who said these were matters for the Scottish parliament. However, in this case I do not think I was told that. I should have been told that if the Government were being logical as regards their usual arguments; namely, that whenever we propose any change to Standing Orders or to anything else we are told that we should not attempt that here and that we should trust the new parliament. That is exactly what my amendment proposes to do.

In case the Committee thinks this is not a sensible amendment, I should say that I do not think the term "first minister" will be accepted, any more than the title "presiding officer". At the risk of a little laughter at my expense, I have mentioned another title created by government in the mid '80s which was not accepted for long either. However, I shall not let that title cross my lips this evening. I draw the Committee's attention to a Children in Scotland factsheet No. 41, which I read with

28 Jul 1998 : Column 1465

my usual interest. I could not avoid a double-take when I read the following paragraph describing the Scottish parliament,

    "Members of the Scottish Parliament will be elected by general election every four years. The parliament will have a Presiding Officer (the Speaker), Ministers, a Clerk and a First Minister (effectively the Scottish Prime Minister)".

The simple fact of the matter is that whatever this Chamber decides, the popular press--I am not sure whether you call the other lot the unpopular press--and the heavyweight press, as it were, will use these shorthand titles which people understand. I have been round this course before. My amendment does not state that the first minister should be called the premier or the prime minister. It does not state that the Scottish executive should be called the government of Scotland or anything like that. It states simply that the parliament should be able to change the terms to any other terms it thinks appropriate.

Let us start off with what the Government want in the Bill, as I have learnt that what the Government want they will jolly well have, like spoilt children. So let the Government have what they want, but let us give the parliament--in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale--the power to change that, so that we stand by what we believe to be the good sense of the parliament and do not second guess what titles the parliament or the people concerned will be given. It seems to me this is an amendment the Government ought to accept to give the parliament the power to make changes to these titles as it thinks fit. If it thinks what we have handed down from this Parliament is appropriate, it will adopt those terms. Let us trust the parliament as Ministers here have said. I beg to move.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My noble friends and I strongly support this amendment. It is akin to my Amendment No. 256, which we have already debated but to which we shall return in the running order of the Bill.

Not only do I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that these words will not survive; they are thought to be rather ridiculous. To me, a presiding officer is a person sitting at my village polling station, and I know of no other use for the phrase. I could go on, but do not want to be repetitive.

I wish to make one important point. I distinctly recall that, when the White Paper was published and presented in the other place, the Secretary of State for Scotland made it clear that these names were not set in stone and that they were simply there as handy guidance since some words had to written into the Bill. I hope that that will be the attitude of the Government. What a splendid relief it would be to us all if, just occasionally, a Minister would come to the Dispatch Box and say, "You have a point, we'll accept it. Let us move on to the next subject".

Lord Renton: I support the amendment moved by my noble friend. Many years ago, as an Under-Secretary at the Home Office, I had the responsibility of maintaining liaison with the "government of Northern

28 Jul 1998 : Column 1466

Ireland" as it was called. It was not called an "executive"; it was called a "government". The head of that government was known as the Premier.

It is only right that we should have some flexibility in this matter to enable the Scottish parliament/government in years to come to choose those expressions that it thinks most appropriate. The amendment deserves support.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The amendment would allow the Scottish parliament to change the titles of various officers in the parliament and of the executive. It represents a course that we have been over before in Committee, rather thoroughly as I remember it, on one of the early days which have all merged into one in a haze in my mind at this stage. We went into the details at some length.

I am afraid that I shall be consistent, in that I can only repeat my earlier remarks. I appreciate the noble Lord's arguments, which have not changed since our earlier discussions on the subject. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Before she goes on to develop this argument, I must remind her that my previous amendment stated that "First Minister" should become "Premier". This amendment does not say that; it says that the term should remain the same, but that the parliament should be allowed to change it if it wishes. It is quite a different argument. I hope that we are not to hear a repeat of the previous argument advanced by the Government.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing that out. We were aware of it. He could not possibly be moving the same amendment as he proposed earlier. The principle is the same. While we appreciate the noble Lord's argument that the parliament should be able to decide for itself the titles of its executive, its Ministers and its key officers, we believe that the certainty and consistency achieved by prescribing the titles from the outset is essential. The prescription is necessary to maintain a consistency in references throughout the Bill and in future legislation, as well as in other formal documents through successive sessions of the parliament.

We are well aware of the speculation as to other titles that might be used. Incidentally, I did not see the significance that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, seemed to give to a factsheet for children explaining that the first minister in a Scottish parliament would be what they knew as a Prime Minister in the Westminster Parliament. That does not seem any great argument for changing the title of first minister.

The titles used in the Bill are clear and unambiguous and suit their purpose. "First Minister" describes the role and avoids confusion with office holders in Westminster--a not unimportant point which noble Lords opposite never seem to accept. It is consistent with the Northern Ireland Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, mentioned Northern Ireland, but I must point out that that assembly here and now has a First Minister. That seems to have been readily accepted

28 Jul 1998 : Column 1467

across the media in respect of Northern Ireland, and I do not see why it should be different when it comes to Scotland.

The Welsh assembly is to have a first secretary. Generally, the titles were used throughout the White Paper and therefore they were the titles that the people of Scotland became familiar with during the referendum campaign. During that campaign, of which I was very much a part, as were some other Members of your Lordships' House, those titles were used all the time. I do not think noble Lords opposite are suggesting that the referendum meant that everything to do with the parliament did not have a good airing in Scotland. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was good enough to mention more than once, the results were a resounding victory of "Yes" to both questions.

The titles have been carefully chosen to avoid confusion with the Westminster Parliament and Whitehall Ministers. No doubt people will develop their own way of referring to them, and I do not want to speculate on that. Different titles might be used in the day-to-day operation of the parliament. For example, people might want for working purposes to add to the titles of Scottish ministers so as to distinguish them according to their portfolios. That would mean people would refer to a particular Scottish minister as "the Scottish minister for health", "the Scottish health minister", "the Scottish education minister" and so on. But the titles would have no legal status. By prescribing simple, straightforward titles, we hope to ensure that there is no confusion between officers and positions so that everyone knows where they stand and what their responsibilities are. I ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page