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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. She and I both clearly read the same runes. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 288BA, 288C and 288D not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 80 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: There are some serious arguments to be advanced about why this particular clause should stand part of the Bill. Frankly, it seems to me that we could resolve matters very quickly if we allowed it to stand part of the Bill and if we had a greater opportunity to understand and reflect upon the argument that the Minister advanced a few moments ago. I suggest that the appropriate course would be to leave the clause as part of the Bill. If the Government wish to remove it and can explain in greater detail why such action is necessary, they can do so on Report.

The Earl of Balfour: I have listened most carefully to what has been said. As I understand it, an auditor is not normally part of the executive and is in rather a special position. In that respect, I feel that what my noble and learned friends have said needs to be considered very carefully. For the moment, I should like Clause 80 to remain part of the Bill. With great respect, the Government will have the opportunity to repeal it at the next stage.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I shall make just one comment on what has been said about everyone needing time to reflect. In fact, when considering amendments, one hears the arguments for and against and then one decides the issue there and then. I find it very odd that some people need so much longer. However, we are a listening Government. I will say that Clause 80 can stand part of the Bill and that we will return to the matter on Report. Nevertheless, the points that I made about there being no hiatus and about the amendments certainly stand. In no way do I withdraw any of those comments.

Clause 80 agreed to.

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Clause 81 [Scottish representation at Westminster]:

Lord Rowallan moved Amendment No. 289:

Page 39, line 2, at beginning insert--
("(A1) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall, by the day on which the Parliament first meets or as soon as possible thereafter, submit a special report to the Secretary of State recommending the constituencies into which Scotland should be divided for the purposes of the first general election of members of the House of Commons after the commencement of this section.
(B1) The report referred to in subsection (A1) above shall be subject to the same provisions of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 as apply to reports under section 3(1) of that Act save for the provisions of subsection (2) of that section.").

The noble Lord said: We are dealing with a most important question here. It is absolutely essential that we do not cap the number of MPs that we send down to Westminster after devolution to answer the impossible-to-answer West Lothian question, as that could be taken as a sign of anti-Scottishness by Westminster. We must make a decision now as this Bill proceeds through this Chamber on the correct procedure of voting for both parliaments and the numbers who will represent Scotland in both parliaments. It is absolutely no good our MSPs having a loud voice in Edinburgh while our MPs are political eunuchs with the ability to speak with no more than a whimper here at Westminster because they are regarded as being totally over-represented.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, made clear earlier in the Committee stage, the number of parliamentary seats is totally sacrosanct vis-a-vis the number of Scottish parliamentary seats. We must decide now if we are to have our 72 MPs and 129 MSPs, or whether it will be 58 and 108, or something completely different. We cannot permit these MPs and MSPs to be elected and then take away their constituencies at a later date. Can one imagine the scramble and fight for seats there would be within Scotland? Can one imagine the chagrin of the Scots nation as a whole at having its representation taken away from it--as would be its perception--by means of a Bill that we are putting through Parliament at this time?

This is a potential minefield. It is absolutely essential that we get the Boundary Commission to look at the situation now and decide what should happen before someone treads on one of the mines in this field and we have a tremendous backlash and a potential for this entire devolution Bill to fail before it has even started. I beg to move.

Lord Monson moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 289, Amendment No. 289A:

Line 2, leave out from ("shall,") to ("submit") in line 3 and insert ("not later than three months after the day on which the Parliament first meets,").

The noble Lord said: When the first Marshalled List of amendments for the Committee stage of this Bill appeared a great many weeks ago it contained about 295 amendments, yet there were only two English names on the list, on two of the amendments. Although a handful more have subsequently been added, including my own and those of the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the lack

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of English concern is still pretty astonishing given that the effects of this Bill are by no means confined to Scottish internal affairs. There is a United Kingdom dimension and there is very much an English dimension.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, pointed out, the West Lothian question has not gone away. It has not been resolved. I hope that the Official Opposition will agree that the Government really cannot wriggle out of coming forward with some solution on the complacent assumption that the English are too bovine and unobservant to mind one way or the other. They may appear that way at the moment but once the Scottish parliament is up and running things are likely to change rapidly. A former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Baker--I am sorry he is not here tonight--wrote a most interesting article in the Spectator on 1st August which is worth quoting from. The noble Lord, Lord Baker wrote,

    "It is simply unacceptable that Scotland is over-represented at Westminster by at least ten MPs".
Actually he is wrong, the correct figure for over-representation is 14 or 15. He continued,

    "English MPs will not for long tolerate the anomaly whereby they cannot vote on Scottish roads, schools, hospitals or laws while Scottish MPs at Westminster can vote on all these matters affecting England".
As some have suggested, an English parliament would mean yet more expense and yet more over-government, of which there are already signs. Better by far simply to debar Scottish MPs from voting on those English measures corresponding to those devolved to the Scottish parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, later suggests in the Spectator article and as, coincidentally, Paul Goodman advocates today in his interesting article on page 22 of the Daily Telegraph.

Clearly, such a proposal would take some time to set up. In the meantime it would be wrong for Scotland to be 25 per cent. over-represented at the next general election with a Scottish parliament already in full charge of Scotland's internal affairs--hence this amendment, which is designed to tighten up the well-thought-out amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, although I do not agree with him as to what is the correct number of Scottish MPs. I beg to move.

Lord Monro of Langholme: I support this amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I have been a severe critic of the West Lothian problem for many years. It is depressing that it is to be prolonged more than is necessary. The achievement of the Boundary Commission over the past two years in redefining local government seats in Scotland, sometimes with dramatic effect, as in Dumfries and Galloway where the number of seats has been reduced from 70 to 54, shows what can be done, if the spirit is willing, to get the number of constituencies right.

Were the Boundary Commission to start when this Bill reaches the statute book preparing future constituencies, they could come into force at the first forthcoming general election, not at the second. It seems that there will be five years of gross over-representation at the Westminster Parliament by Scottish Members of

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Parliament. I should like to hear the Government's reasons as to why such a solution does not seem possible in the light of this legislation.

Purely as a matter of interest I should like to know why it has been decided to split Orkney and Shetland into two constituencies both in the Scottish parliament and presumably in a future Westminster Parliament. Orkney and Shetland have always been adequately and exceptionally well represented. It may be a physical hardship for the constituency member to deal with two islands, but they are not so far apart in terms of air travel. I wonder why two very small constituencies are to be established when one is probably an over-representation at the present time, though there must be one for Orkney and Shetland. Why have the Government taken that decision? Secondly, is it still possible to redefine the number of constituencies for the Westminster Parliament before the first forthcoming general election and not the second?

Lord Ellenborough: I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to which I have my name. I thank my noble friend Lord Rowallan for providing a rare opportunity to touch briefly upon the English dimension at this late hour on the ninth Committee day.

The purpose of our Amendment No. 289A is to attempt to instil a sense of urgency in getting the Boundary Commission under starter's orders so that there can be a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs, not merely as soon as possible but certainly by the next general election in 2001 or 2002.

Scottish devolution will not work unless the Scots are satisfied--but it will not work unless the English are satisfied. We want the parliament to be successful, although many of us have grave reservations. It is essential that there should be fair play and justice for England, which after all constitutes 83 per cent. of the UK. I have referred previously to the ostrich-like attitude of the Government in their inability and unwillingness to face up to the English dimension, which could have fatal consequences for the Union. The Government are in a dilemma because of the ploy to give the Scots a parliament in such a way that will finish off the SNP--which has backfired and instead unleashed a truly Scottish monster--and perpetuate the over-representation of Scots MP at Westminster for as long as possible for the Government's political advantage.

Consequently, there is the vague and derisory proposal in the Bill which would have the effect of reducing the number of Scots MPs by a handful, not by the next general election but by the one after that, which will perhaps be in 2007, by which time the Scots parliament will have been up and running for eight years. Indeed, some who are better informed than I say that Scotland may be independent by then. If ever there was a case of hastening slowly, this would seem to be it, and it is quite outrageous. The establishment of a new parliament is a measure of enormous importance, affecting the whole of the UK. I suspect that the Government are sheltering behind so-called administrative difficulties in preventing the Boundary

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Commission making an early start. After all, it is not a case of reviewing some 660 constituencies of the entire UK; it is a matter of reviewing some 70 constituencies, about 10 per cent. of the whole. Obviously some adjustment would be needed for the few Highland and Island constituencies.

Of course, a reduction of a handful of 12 or so MPs is derisory, and a reduction of a much larger size is not the real answer. The problem is not the numbers but the manner in which Scots MPs exercise their votes on matters concerning England. Even so, any reduction that takes place at the next general election would at least show some willingness to face up to the problem. It would be a gesture. It would slightly alleviate the unfairness and give a breathing space for a lasting solution to be found, almost certainly by the next Conservative government, if not too late, to prevent a final dismantling of the Union.

In the meantime, the Government ignore the English dimension at their peril and should not wait for the crisis to occur. It will not happen yet, but that should not cause the Government to be lulled into a false sense of security. While Labour has a large majority in England the danger is obscured. Many people feel that the acute danger period will be in five years' time after a probable four years of Scots Labour rule in Edinburgh, more than enough to cause rampant Scottish nationalism and, by then, growing English resentment at interference by Scots MPs in English affairs when there may well be a Conservative majority in England, despite current trends.

My fear is that the danger will come when English people wake up to the fact that their affairs are being adversely affected by the votes of Scots MPs when English Members do not have a similar right. If looked upon favourably by the Government, this amendment and others grouped with it would very much help the situation.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: The Liberal Democrats have always been absolutely clear that if and when we have a Scottish parliament the number of Scottish Members attending the Westminster Parliament should be reduced. We have never had any doubt about that; we have said it consistently over many years. I understand that both the Bill and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, give effect to that.

As I said on a previous occasion, the constitutional convention did not deal with this issue because we felt that the consequential arrangements for Westminster were beyond our remit. Although before the election the Labour Party resisted this idea, immediately after the election it accepted that there should be such a reduction, not as an answer to the West Lothian question but certainly as an alleviation of the problem. I remind noble Lords that it is stated in the White Paper that,

    "Scotland's MPs will continue to play a full and constructive part at Westminster. The number of Scottish seats will be reviewed".
That was clearly the position of the Government almost from day one after the election. It certainly argues that that reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at

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Westminster should take effect as soon as possible. I do not know where the idea came from that it should be delayed until after the next election. I believe that that would provoke a lot of reaction among English, Welsh and Northern Irish Members, and with some justification. I believe that that reduction should take place within the life of this Parliament so that at the next election the boundaries are based on the revised and reduced numbers. I believe that that is the logic of the situation.

In a debate in the other place three or four years ago I recall arguing that the right mechanism following the creation of a Scottish parliament was the formation of something like an English Grand Committee. That was thought to be rather an off-the-wall idea but it is now commonplace. Sir Malcolm Rifkind has advocated it. The Conservative Party is debating English institutions. All of this is very healthy. I can see no reason for the delay in bringing about a reduction in the number of Scottish Members at Westminster. I say in passing that that issue should not be tied in any way to the future numbers of members of the Scottish parliament. Although the Committee is not debating that matter at the moment, I take this opportunity to remind the Government of what they said in the White Paper. They said that the Scottish parliament would consist of 129 members, 73 directly elected on a constituency basis plus 56 additional members allocated to ensure that the overall result more directly reflected the share of votes cast for each party. There is nothing in the White Paper about reducing the numbers in the Scottish parliament after the numbers in the Westminster Parliament have been reduced. It would be a nonsense to start the Scottish parliament on day one with 129 members and to tell them on day two that 20 or so would be out at the next election. Apart from anything else, we are creating a new building. Let us have a little commonsense about this. Although I do not expect an answer from the Government in relation to this amendment, I hope that they will very clearly separate the two issues.

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