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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he know whether the constitutional convention took account of the fact that the number of Westminster seats in Scotland might be reduced? It did not have to, as I pointed out in my speech, but I wonder whether it did. It is just a point of interest for the House.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. My point was that, in arriving at 129, the constitutional convention started with and was driven in its calculations by the driver of the 73 Westminster constituencies. The noble Baroness is quite right, it did not consider the possibility of a reduction in the number of Westminster constituencies. It is not surprising that its recommendations are implicitly silent on what the effect would be on the size of the Scottish parliament if there were a reduction in the number of Scottish seats at Westminster.
In introducing the White Paper, we accepted the argument--and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was a strong advocate of the argument--that we should move away from the requirement placed on the Boundary Commission to maintain the present level of representation in Scotland. We made that clear in the White Paper, Scotland's Parliament. I will quote for the sake of completeness. Paragraph 4.5 of the White Paper states:
We then move on to the relationship between the Westminster seats and the size of the Scottish parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has identified, that is dealt with in paragraph 8.7 of the White Paper. It says,
So it has been there, it has been open and it has been explicit. It may be absolutely reasonable to argue and disagree with the Government's proposals, to disagree with what is contained in the White Paper, and to disagree with the process behind that proposition. But it is not fair and it is not reasonable to say, in any sense, that the Government have reneged on any undertaking that they gave. They did not; they have not; and they will not.
I can assure the House that we have thought carefully about the implications for the parliament of a reduction in size. It would be a matter of major concern if the size of the parliament were so reduced that it somehow affected the efficient and effective internal workings of the parliament. We simply do not believe that that will be the case. The size of any likely reduction would not be such that the parliament would be unable to carry out its key roles of scrutinising effectively Scottish legislation and enacting that legislation.
We must keep this debate in proportion. On any realistic assessment, we are not contemplating cutting the membership of the parliament by a half, a third, or even a quarter. Yes, there will be a reduction, but attempts to cast the Government in a role of carrying out some sort of cull of the innocents is not a fair description of what is likely to happen. It is virtually certain that the size of the Scottish parliament--even after the review of the Westminster constituencies--will still comprise more than 100 members. That is a reasonable, proper size for a parliament at Holyrood. It is a size which will enable it to do its job, and to do that job properly.
Turning briefly to Amendment No. 11, this is a slightly different amendment from the others in this particular grouping. It really returns to a point which I know is close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and it deals with the size of constituencies. The noble Lord again reveals his mathematical past in providing us with a formula. If I interpret his formula properly, he is attempting to ensure that all but seven of the constituencies for the Scottish parliament are within a 10 per cent. margin of the electoral quota. The noble Lord has promised us that he will return to this issue somewhat later in our debates.
The only point I would make is that issue properly rests with the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission is given a series of rules. The desire to get equality of size is one of the important factors, but the Boundary Commission is allowed to take into account other factors, like special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of the
Amendment No. 24 takes another tack. It accepts coterminous constituencies and compensates for any reduction in numbers by increasing the number of regional members. Here I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, because what we have sought to do throughout the whole discussion on the size of the parliament is to maintain the balance between the number of members of the Scottish parliament elected under the first-past-the-post provision and the number who are coming through under the so-called corrective mechanism of additional members. Amendment No. 24 significantly upsets that balance. I can appreciate the main objective, which is to secure a particular number, but it has chosen the wrong way of going about securing that number by increasing disproportionately and upsetting the balance in favour of the additional member seats.
I realise that the issue of the size of the Scottish parliament is of considerable importance to many noble Lords. I believe that it is of importance. I believe that our approach is right. I believe that our approach has been consistent, straight and honest throughout. But I do make this point and I ask noble Lords to reflect upon it. We are setting up the Scottish parliament which will initially have 129 members. They will set about their work. I am sure that they will do it well and that they will find that they have sufficient people to do it. I think they will recognise that their work would not be adversely affected by a reduction in their overall number. But if, during the course of the early years of the parliament, they take the view that a reduction in the size of the parliament would have an adverse effect on the way it functioned and operated, it is clearly open to the parliament to petition the United Kingdom Parliament and seek an amendment to the Bill.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, will the noble Lord not consider the effect on the state of morale of many members of the parliament when they are thinking of the problems of Scotland and realising that 20 of them will have to go long before they have got anywhere with it? That is an important point which the noble Lord has not considered.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I do not think that the size of the Scottish parliament or indeed the size of the other place should be determined by the sensitivities of the members who inhabit it. The size of a parliament has to be justified by means other than perhaps the slight disadvantage and discomfiture that may be caused to its members when the size is reviewed from time to time.
I return to my final point. It is clearly open to the Scottish parliament, if in its early years it feels that a reduction in its size would seriously and significantly affect the way it operated and put its functioning at risk, to make a case to this Parliament
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in this very interesting debate. I note that many noble Lords have chosen to speak in support of the amendment--in varying degrees and with varying degrees of reluctance--and I also note that no noble Lord has chosen to support the Government's position. That is, as I said in my opening remarks, because the Government's position is insupportable.
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I am so glad that we have in our midst an economist in the 19th century sense. I do not want to refer to the individual contributions of many of your Lordships but I should like to refer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. When he finished pulling my tail, I understood him to say that he would indeed be supporting us. As I said when opening the debate, I always enjoy being teased by the noble Lord because it usually means that I have got it right. However, I must say that support from him is a little like sniffing the fragrant bloom of a cactus in the desert--you have to be very careful how close you get. I am nonetheless grateful for that support. If he is an unwilling convert to the idea of consensual politics, I promise to go gently with him.
At the end of my opening speech I said that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, would come to the Dispatch Box with his usual courtesy, honeyed with humour, and that I hoped he would let his heart speak instead of the brief in front of him. I got it slightly wrong. He certainly came with his usual courtesy but chose instead ire and obfuscation as his defence of the Government's position. I do not think it hid the weakness of his position. It all comes down to one simple fact. Someone, somewhere--I do not know where--thinks it is a jolly good idea if every constituency in Westminster and every constituency in Scotland has identical boundaries. I do not think for one moment that there is a single voter who knows where the boundaries of his constituency are. It is only those of us in politics who are exercised about that. It is not a matter of great importance. It is simply a neat little administrative parcel.
I come back to the three arguments I gave your Lordships at the beginning of the debate. The Government's position is quite contrary to that set out in the constitutional convention; it will inevitably mean a reduction in the efficiency and working capacity of the