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Lord Lyell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder if he would clarify a point for me. I was impressed by his description of the system in the Nordic countries. He touched on the German Lander, about which I have had some instruction during the course of German lessons that take place in your Lordships' House. The size of the Federal Republic of Germany may be out of kilter with that of Scotland, but, as I understand it, in Germany and perhaps in Switzerland--though I hesitate to mention it because it may rouse the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon--there is a clear structure of lower tiers of government which work their way up to the unicameral system. Representatives of the German Lander go to the Bundesrat and there is therefore a fairly clear structure. Does the Minister have it in mind that in, say, five years' time or longer there could be a power for the Scottish parliament to evolve a system? I understand that the proposal is that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny and committees. Will the Government stop at that or will they give power to the parliament to have a wider review of the political system within Scotland? If the Minister believes that the system proposed is adequate, he might care to glance, as I did today, at the front pages of the Herald and the Scotsman and read the result of what I understand were some successful meetings yesterday. These proposals have only arisen at this late stage of the Bill in your Lordships' House, after 15 months of study. I wonder whether a pre-legislative scrutiny mechanism would be satisfactory.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, because it will be a unicameral parliament, there will be a great onus on those involved to establish the most effective pre-legislative arrangements. Those who have been involved in the argument from the early days have always had this at the front of their minds. There is no difference between any of us on the importance and priority that we attach to this matter.

With regard to the extent to which the Scottish parliament could change the political structure of Scotland, clearly the most obvious area for that is local government. It would be perfectly possible for a Scottish parliament to change the structure of local government in Scotland.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the Minister did not reply to a single point I made. I do not take him to task for that; there were many speakers and he may have thought my points were not worth replying to.

It is noticeable that none of the noble Lords on his Benches who, out of the depths of legislative experience, previously disagreed with him--none of

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whom are inflexible or out-of-date people--are present here today. I believe that it behoves the Minister to tell us why he did not explain to them that they were wrong and whether he thinks that the dozens of amendments he is making in this second Chamber today, as a result of scrutiny in this House and of the time he has been granted because of the second round of scrutiny, are necessary. Would the Bill be just as good without them? How could the process be carried out without a second chamber? This is a practical point, not a political one. The people of Scotland have not had a chance to know about the need for a second chamber. The Minister is right: they think that there will not be one. However, I am sure that they would not mind if there were a clause enabling the parliament to have a second chamber if it so desired. I believe the Minister owes it to us all to reply briefly to those points.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall reply briefly. As to my noble friends who may or may not be present today, I suggest that it is possible that they are not speaking in the debate because they have read Hansard and have been convinced by the arguments I deployed at an earlier stage.

On the more substantial point that the noble Baroness made, I have tried to emphasise that there is no difference between us as regards the need for scrutiny and revision. Where we differ is that the noble Baroness believes that that is only possible by having a second chamber, whereas the Government believe that it is not necessary to have a second chamber in order to establish the institutions of scrutiny and revision. I have prayed in aid the example of the Nordic parliaments, where there is proper, effective and adequate process of scrutiny and revision within the structure of a unicameral parliament.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. Some of us were wondering which of the noble Lord's teeth had cracked. From his reply, I suspect that it was his wisdom tooth.

I hope that we shall not be told constantly that, because the people of Scotland did not make a decision on X, Y or Z matter, we therefore cannot proceed with it. There were only two questions. One was quite general, the other a little more specific, and that was an end to it. The very fact that the Government are proposing amendments suggests that they are prepared to make changes as the Bill proceeds.

The Minister has made it clear that he believes that a second chamber will not be necessary, and therefore he does not believe that members of the Scottish parliament should have the power to consider whether it might be necessary. If my amendment is not included in the legislation, if the Minister does not accept the next series of amendments and if the number of MSPs declines from about 130, which the Government believe the parliament needs, to just over a 100 in, say, eight years' time, it may be that the need for a second chamber and some additional brains to consider legislation will become more important. I presume that if at that stage the Scottish parliamentarians decide that they would like

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to have a second chamber, they would have to ask this Parliament to put a Bill through. The Minister is nodding in agreement, so I have correctly interpreted that matter. That is unfortunate. I was trying to be as modest as I could be in the amendment that I proposed. I am grateful to all my noble friends for their support for the proposition that there should be a second chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was unusually uncharitable in his comments. One normally hears from the Liberal Democrats that the Scottish parliament will be consensual and non-confrontational in its approach. The noble Lord has been fairly confrontational. Perhaps he will have to learn to adopt a non-confrontational approach before the Scottish parliament comes into being, although given the way in which Scottish politics is developing at the moment according to the newspapers, radio and television, there is not much that is non-confrontational, whether it be the SNP or the governing party. They are at each other's throats in a way that would do credit to the other place.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that it is not a good argument simply to say that all of this has been considered in the constitutional convention and that is the last word on it. I know that he does not believe my credentials to be any good. I just live in Scotland and I suppose that I must live with whatever comes along. I do not appear to have any particular right to voice my opinion on these matters. But the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, whose status is second to none as far as concerns the constitutional convention, expressed considerable reservations about the lack of a second chamber. He thought that that was worth considering. I quoted him to that effect earlier today. I suspect that the noble Lord knows that the Government will not shift and he feels that it is easier not to be here. No doubt the noble Lord will speak for himself.

The most amazing assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was that if there were a second chamber it would feed separatism. My goodness, it is a bit late in the day for the Liberal Democrats to be worried about feeding separatism. They have made a pretty good job of it. Alex Salmond is enjoying his diet very much at the moment. I believe that that was a bogus argument. A second chamber could help to dispel separatism by acting as a check or balance to a lower chamber that might easily be dominated by the SNP at one election or another.

However, I can tell when I shall not make any progress with the Minister. As we are to deal with a very important issue in respect of which noble Lords may be able to tease the Minister by asking whether or not the Government are in breach of the White Paper and the constitutional convention, I seek leave to withdrawn my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Constituencies, regions and regional members]:

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 60, line 5, after ("Constituencies") insert ("of the Scottish Parliament").

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The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3 in my name and that of a number of my noble friends. In moving this amendment, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 6 to 9. I shall also refer to Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 24 in this group, which relate to a slightly separate issue.

These amendments are designed to address the curious anomaly in the position of the Government that has arisen since the publication of the report of the constitutional convention. That has linked the number of seats at Westminster to the number of constituencies in the Scottish parliament. In turn they are linked to the number of regional members in the Scottish parliament, which means that, in order to solve the West Lothian question, whereby the number of representatives in the Westminster Parliament is reduced, the Scottish parliament that has given rise to the need for that reduction itself reduces. One comes down to the absurd realisation that if ultimately it is decided that the proper answer to the West Lothian question is 10 MPs for Scotland, there will be about 15 people in Edinburgh to administer the whole of Scotland.

Amendment No. 3 is a paving amendment to allow the other amendments to go through. The main meat of our argument lies in Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 which seek to enable the Scottish parliament to decide its own representation and therefore restore broadly the position set out in the report of the constitutional convention. Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 24 essentially reinforce that and take a belt and braces approach. They also offer a compromise in that if the first-past-the-post members are altered it allows for the regional members to be topped up to maintain the number at 129.

When this Bill was debated at Second Reading, which in real time was many months ago and was a good 12 days ago in parliamentary time, I spoke warmly in favour of the measure as a whole. That support for devolution and for the parliament in Edinburgh has not diminished one wit either in me or in my noble friends. During Second Reading I pointed out two very grave concerns. I believed that the more important one was the curious Catch 22 that had been created after the major debates had taken place in the constitutional convention. I believe that it was first introduced when the Bill was in another place.

At Committee stage my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood set out our position on this issue in detail. I believe that he did it with great cogency. I am extremely sorry that he has been detained in Luxembourg today and is not here to put the case himself. I am sure that he would have done it with considerably greater lucidity than I can and, more importantly, with the far greater authority that his voice would carry as a co-chairman of the constitutional convention. I am sorry that he is not here and I crave your Lordships' indulgence that a humble man from Caithness has to do the job. I believe that the position of the government is wholly ridiculous. It completely defies logic in order to tie a neat little administrative bow between the Westminster constituencies and the proposed Scottish constituencies. No other defence has been advanced for it.

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I remind noble Lords of the three very powerful arguments in favour of the amendment, contrary to the position of the Government. The first argument, which I believe to be very powerful, is that it restores the position as it was understood and agreed in the constitutional convention. I submit that the Government's position in this matter is contrary to the spirit of devolution. Secondly, the inevitable reduction which is the consequence of the Government's position will seriously impair the working of the new parliament. Thirdly, I have no doubt that, were the Government's proposals to be carried through and this amendment not passed, the breadth and depth of representation in the Scottish parliament would be reduced. There are many other important and detailed arguments, but I leave them to my noble friends to put before the House.

I return to the first argument. I speak with the slight risk of being teased by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I always enjoy it because usually it means that I am in the right. The other day the noble Lord chided me for reading from my own speeches so I shall read from somebody else's. I remind noble Lords of the words used by my noble friend in moving this amendment:

    "I can tell the Committee that there is no issue more thoroughly debated, argued and discussed, both formally within the convention and in the corridors outside, than the vexed question of the appropriate number of members of the new Scottish parliament.

    There is every indication that the Government propose a major breach of the agreement reached in the constitutional convention".--[Official Report, 8/7/98; col. 1332.]

I turn to page 21 of the report of the constitutional convention:

    "The total size of the Parliament will be 129 Members".
It goes on to say at page 22:

    "The system which the convention has devised is the outcome of long and detailed discussions. It should not be easily challenged or changed without careful and democratic scrutiny".
In the debate that we have just had the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, eloquently and persuasively put forward a strong case for the checks and balances that will exist within the new chamber. I believe that the Government's position in relation to this amendment is diametrically opposite to the view expressed by the noble Lord in the previous debate.

If I may come to my second argument, I really do believe that if we have this curious anomaly whereby the number of MPs is reduced at the wave of some magic wand down to a bare 100, which is barely twice the number of people that sit in the local government in Inverness, there simply will not be enough people to go around to sit on the committees, to pre-scrutinise legislation, to form the administration and to form the opposition. His very own argument against the second chamber stands proof of the folly of the Government's position in regard to this matter.

My third argument is on the question of representation. The constitutional convention was at great pains to bring forward a system which sought as far as possible solutions to all the divergent problems and views which exist within Scotland. There is the question that those of us who live in the far north are

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frightened that the domination of Westminster simply becomes the domination of Edinburgh. I am much reassured by the regional structure that has been put in that the views of those in more rural areas will be heard and we will have our voice heard in Edinburgh. Reduction is bound to impact on that. Where will the reduction come? Will it come from us in the north reinforcing the central belt concerns, or will it come from the central belt reinforcing their concerns of a tartan-clad army coming down from the Highlands to dominate the parliament? Either way we are on a hiding to nothing.

I shall stick with those three powerful arguments and leave my noble friends to pick up other points. However, I have just one observation to make. When we finished this debate in Committee the Caithness Courier carried a report. I do not quite know why the latter should have picked it up but it did. I was at the Halkirk Highland Games a day or two after that. I have never experienced so many people coming to me and saying, "I had no idea this was in the Bill" and telling me how right we were to press forward. I do not believe there is anybody in Scotland who actually understands what this means who does not wish the Government to reverse their position and accept our extremely logical proposal.

I am sure that we shall have a very interesting debate. We may even have quite a long debate but when the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, comes to the Dispatch Box, which I am sure he will do with his customary courtesy honeyed with humour, I hope, as he seeks to defend his position with all his intellectual might and an undoubtedly sound brief, that what he will do is look into his heart where I am certain--and I guess this--he is with me. Let his heart on this occasion rule his head. Please, I ask him, let him concede because I must warn him: if he does not, we on these Benches regard these amendments as fundamental and crucial and we shall certainly wish to seek the opinion of your Lordships' House.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 16, 20 and 25.

It gives me enormous pleasure for very nearly the first time since I have been in your Lordships' House to be fully behind the Liberal Party on this issue. A very cogent point has been put by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. I cannot see any logic at all in building a parliament for 129 people and all their offices and then reducing the number at a later date to 108, 100, or whatever the number might be. Apart from the complete waste of capital money involved in doing that, the whole thing seems to me to be completely illogical. I had hoped that by now the noble Lords in the Liberal Party and in my own party would have managed to get together and bring forward a common amendment for this. We are all after the same thing, but there are at least four different proposals saying virtually the same thing in different words. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso said, this is an important issue; it is absolutely fundamental to the whole thing. The White Paper quite clearly stated that there would be 129 Members in this

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parliament and we now learn during the course of this Bill's progress that this could be reduced. That must be resisted at all costs. I hope that the noble Lord who will be doing the answering has got a heart and that he manages to use it.

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