|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Sewel: The noble Lord gives us a package of amendments which seek to rewrite the machinery for the appointment, approval and removal of ministers and junior ministers of the Scottish executive. We cannot accept them.
What the Government propose in this Bill is a carefully thought out set of arrangements which build on the provisions of the White Paper. Before turning to the detail of the amendments, I think it might be helpful to explain why Clause 44 and Clause 46, which deal with junior ministers, are framed in the way they are.
We propose that it will, quite properly, be for the first minister to select whom he wishes to serve in his ministerial team from among the members of the parliament. We have provided that the appointment of ministers and junior ministers must be approved by Her Majesty, as we promised would be the case in paragraph 9.6 of the White Paper. However, we have also built in a formal role for the parliament in approving the appointment of ministers. We are giving discretion to the first minister to remove ministers from office and we are ensuring that if the executive loses the confidence of the parliament, then all ministers shall cease to hold office. That is the framework that we are providing.
I must say that I find the amendments put down by the noble Lord to be an interesting but curious bunch. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of what prompts his proposals, but I am not attracted by his solutions.
Taking each proposal in turn, Amendments Nos. 255J, 255M, 255T and 255W in effect remove the involvement of the Crown in the appointment and removal of ministers and junior ministers of the Scottish executive. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, observed, the appointments of UK Government Ministers are of course all approved by Her Majesty and UK Ministers hold their office at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Does the noble Lord wish to argue that after the establishment of the parliament the status of a minister carrying out significant duties, say, in relation to education in Scotland, should be different from what it is at present and will continue to be elsewhere in the United Kingdom? I think that that sort of gesture sends completely the wrong message, particularly from someone who wishes to maintain the strength of the Union.
It seems to me that it would be completely wrong to say that, although a UK Minister is appointed by the Crown and holds office at the pleasure of the Crown, that is not the case for a Scottish minister. It would clearly give the impression of some sort of second-class citizenship among Scottish ministers. I do not think that is advisable.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 255K and 255U. I am not surprised to see an attempt to impose a limit on the numbers of ministers who may be appointed. However, I think it is quite wrong to impose such a limit. I was interested to hear about the magic number six. It seems to be a case of using what one already has, and that is considered sufficient. I think we must accept that we
Those of us who have been involved in the debate and the discussion in Scotland are fully aware of a small kind of sub-market in pamphlets, as it were, that have been doing the rounds which indicate how a Scottish executive should be structured. I am not saying any one of these is the right structure. I am saying that different structures of different degrees of attractiveness are being discussed. However, I think it would be extremely constraining to put a limit of six on the number of ministers whom the first minister could appoint.
Are we trying to prevent excess? I think the best guardians against excess are the Scottish people themselves and the Scottish parliamentarians. If they see a bloated executive, they will reach their own conclusions and they will deny it support either within the parliament or at the subsequent elections. Therefore it is not just a matter of leaving it to the Scottish parliament, it is a matter of leaving it to the judgment of the Scottish people too.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 255L and 255V. These would remove from the Bill the provision that the parliament should agree the ministers and junior ministers whom the first minister wishes to appoint. As I understand it, the Opposition object to what they see as some kind of constitutional novelty, but I am afraid I think they have failed to understand the way in which the role given to the parliament in the appointment of ministers has been constructed. This is a provision which we regard as vitally important in terms of the ability of the Scottish parliament to hold the executive to account. Indeed it links with the provisions to which I have just referred and provides a balance with the powers of the first minister. The first minister appoints ministers, but subject to the approval of the parliament. I think that is particularly important in the context of a parliament which may well--as has been alluded to on more than one occasion--be more delicately balanced than is usual under the first-past-the-post electoral system. The fact that the executive as a whole has received the endorsement of the parliament--in a parliament where there may not necessarily be overall majorities or stable majorities--will lead to a greater degree of stability. That is something that should not be lost sight of.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 255N and 255X. These would allow individual ministers to be forced to resign as the result of a vote of no confidence. Again, I think that fails to recognise the way in which the doctrine of collective responsibility will apply to the Scottish executive. Ministers will exercise their responsibilities as part of the executive, and it is right that Clauses 44 and 46 should reflect that position. As the noble Lord has already said, these clauses provide that only a vote of no confidence in the executive as a whole would formally compel resignation, and in that case it should be the executive as a whole that resigns. To put it another way, the Bill is properly concerned
Of course there will be nothing to prevent the parliament resolving that it has no confidence in an individual. But that will be a matter to be dealt with as part of the normal political processes and not through the formal machinery set out in the Bill. The Bill is about establishing a proper relationship between the parliament and the executive as a whole. It does not, however, prevent the parliament taking a view in terms of confidence or no confidence, passing judgment on an individual Minister. But that is not a matter for the Bill; it is a matter for the politics of the parliament. In all reality, it would be virtually impossible for a Minister who had received a vote of no confidence by the parliament to carry on. The political pressures would be too great.
The amendments proposed are an attempt to recast the whole basis of the appointment, nomination and removal of Scottish Ministers and the number of Scottish Ministers who are available to the first minister. I believe that that would disturb the relationship, structure and framework that we have tried to establish through the Bill. We are providing a more coherent and defensible structure for the making of ministerial and junior ministerial appointments. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank the noble Lord for his reply, although he started out in a rather "crosspatch" mood. As I indicated clearly, I tabled these amendments in order to ask why the words were there, what they meant and what were their implications. If the noble Lord had not used the prepared speaking note, whereby it looked as though I merely wanted to knock them out of the Bill, perhaps we might have got to the essence of the matter more quickly.
I absolutely accept that new Ministers in the United Kingdom are appointed with the approval of Her Majesty. I must check how that worked in my case. I think that will probably come as news to most lay people--by "lay" I mean those who are not great constitutional experts. As I said, I know that great Secretaries of State are appointed in that way, and I suspect that important people such as Law Officers are appointed in that way; however, it never seemed to me that junior Ministers like myself were appointed in that manner. However, I accept entirely the answers given by the noble Lord on those points and I am quite content.
On the limit of 12, I knew that the noble Lord would tell me to leave it to the parliament. During the long Recess I shall count the number of times that he tells me that, and when we come to Report we shall not allow him to complain when we suggest to him that he should leave it to the parliament when we propose that certain matters should be taken out of the Bill. I thought I should receive that response.
I understood the noble Lord's answers about the parliament's approval. I am slightly interested in the concept that the parliament is to be asked to approve each appointment. I see where the Minister is coming from, if indeed we have a parliament with a coalition. It will be interesting politically to see whether the parliament decides not to approve of a particular--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page